Influencers peddling medical, financial advice now need certification, China says

China has taken another step to regulate how online influencers impart information to their followers.

The government has put a great deal of effort into moderating digital content over the years. The rise of more real-time media formats, like livestreaming and snappy video sharing, has made it harder to weed out illegal and unwanted information. As such, new control measures are constantly being proposed as the internet landscape evolves.

Influencers and livestreamers distributing “professional” content in fields like medicines, finance, law and education must have the relevant licenses for their regarding fields, said a set of new provisions announced by China’s National Radio and Television Administration, which issues permits to content providers, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which oversees internet culture.

Platform operators should be responsible for reviewing broadcasters’ certifications and subsequently putting the relevant information in the official records. Artificial intelligence-synthesized presenters and content are subject to the same set of requirements as human broadcasters, the rules say.

The new policy will inevitably raise the bar for grassroots, independent content creators but can be good for tackling disinformation, especially when their opinions can potentially have effect on individuals’ healthcare and financial decisions.

Online live broadcasting has boomed in China over the last few years and become the default way for many to consume information and shop for clothes, produce and more — sort of like TV shopping in the mobile internet era. As of December 2021, over 700 million people in China were livestreaming users, 68% of the country’s entire internet population, according to official data.

ByteDance’s video app Douyin, which is TikTok’s Chineseversion, and Tencent-backed Kuaishou are two of the top livestreaming platforms in the country. Other big players like Huya and Douyu specialize in gaming content.

Livestreaming has really become an integral feature for platforms of all kinds to engage users. A finance app might have their analysts sharing wealth management tips in live sessions and a healthcare app similarly might invite doctors to give real-time talks.

The other recent change to how China wants to control digital content is a new mechanism that would vet user comments before they go live, according to a proposed rule, which has stirred up debate around room for expression.