China is getting serious about the way live-streaming videos affect tens of millions of youngsters, so much so a top authority has proposed to tighten restrictions on underage use.
According to a report from the China Youth Daily, the Communist Party-controlled All Youth Federation recently submitted a proposal during the once-a-year parliamentary session, urging the country to introduce rules for protecting minors online and consider banning those under the age of 18 from hosting live videos.
The suggestion came months after China’s official media slammed video apps for letting content featuring teen moms to run rampant. Kuaishou and ByteDance’s Huoshan, the two video services ensnarled, subsequently apologized and pulled what the paper called “vulgar” and “harmful” videos promoting teen pregnancies.
But authorities concede verbal warnings aren’t enough, for the stakes have grown high for young users and society. For one, the live video format may allow illegal content to more easily fall through the cracks. Young individuals are also more susceptible to scams and may be duped into rewarding streaming hosts big bucks by stealing from their parents.
Aside from blocking minors from being live hosts, the youth union also called for clearer rules around minors’ use of live-streaming apps, which can feature everything from esports competitions and makeup tutorials to seductive dances and violent acts. It added that these platforms should allow parents to monitor children’s activity, and any in-app monetary transactions, such as virtual gifting, must require real-name checks. Apps should also get better at sterilizing content, suggested the youth federation.
Such official manifesto is not to be taken lightly as the government’s stance is key to a company’s commercial success in China. Tencent, for instance, lost a staggering $17.5 billion in market value after an op-ed in the Communist Party’s official paper People’s Daily compared its blockbuster game Honor of Kings to “poison” and “drug.”
The live-streaming industry is already a frequent target of Beijing, which has stepped up oversight over the Chinese internet in recent years as new media forms emerge. To keep in the government’s good graces, live-streaming leaders YY, Momo, Huya, Douyu, Kuaishou and their peers hire armies of content regulators working day and night to screen user-generated content.
The ban proposed by the youth authority is potentially a positive move to society at large in terms of keeping children and adolescents safe. On the other hand, it could be a blow to a flourishing industry.
As many as 425 million people, or more than half of China’s internet population, were live-streaming users as of last June, according to a report from the country’s cybersecurity regulator. More important, these products are having a moment with young people. One in five of China’s internet users who are in senior high school is a “frequent user” of live-streaming apps, according to a joint survey put out by the Communist Youth League and the internet agency under China’s Ministry of Information Industry. The ratios for those in junior high school and elementary school are 18.3 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.
The proposed restriction in live streaming trails a similar curfew in video gaming. Troubled by the rising level of myopia among children and the potentially negative impact of mobile games, Chinese authorities recently announced plans to limit play time among underage users. In another telling move, regulators told teachers to quit assigning app-based homework to slash students’ screen time. This kind of scrutiny is not new, but authorities are demanding stricter identity checks that can involve facial recognition, making it harder for children to find loopholes in the system.