Young livestreamers spark debate on ethics, regulation

By Cao Yin (China Daily) 09:07, July 11, 2024

College students promote goji, or Chinese wolfberry, via livestreaming in Zhongwei, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, on June 22. (MAO ZHU/XINHUA)

College student Liu Zihao is a livestreaming host who can earn about 10,000 yuan ($1,379)"pocket money" every month playing online games.

The 21-year-old, who majors in business management at Beijing Technology and Business University, usually livestreams from home between 10 am and 8 pm, and most of his income comes from tips given by viewers. Liu demonstrates how to play online games and shares his skills and knowledge with them.

"Livestreaming brings me pocket money, and since I like playing games, I don't feel tired, even if I spend a lot of time doing it," he said, adding that he is considering working full-time in livestreaming after graduation.

Another college student, who calls himself Boluo Xingqiqi7 on the popular video platform Bilibili, livestreams stories and videos of his train trips, but earns almost no money from his efforts.

"I just want to record what I do in my spare time and enrich my college life via streaming," said the 21-year-old from Renmin University of China, who has been livestreaming since the beginning of the year about his rail expeditions.

He added: "I like interacting with viewers, which gives me a sense of fulfillment."

However, as livestreaming has become more ubiquitous among young people, concerns have been raised about lack of regulation of the industry.

A report on the development of livestreaming and short videos released by the China Association of Performing Arts last year showed that as of December 2022, more than 64 percent of livestreaming hosts were aged between 18 and 29.

A Sina Weibo questionnaire last year revealed that 61.6 percent of 10,000 young participants were planning to become livestreaming hosts after graduating from college.

Beijing lawyer Ma Lihong expressed concerns about the growing cohort of young livestreamers, calling for regulations to limit their streaming times and locations, as well as an improvement in the quality of content.

Zheng Ning, head of the Law Department at the Communication University of China's Cultural Industries Management School, acknowledged that livestreaming by college students had become a trend, and stressed that livestreaming hosts over the age of 18 needed to follow industry-related laws and regulations.

However, given the popularity of livestreaming and short videos, universities and colleges can turn these operations into practical training for students, she added.


No disturbance

In recent months, college students have become more active on livestreaming platforms. Some sing and dance, or share learning or travel experiences, while others help introduce and sell specialties from their hometowns. However, this phenomenon has sparked public controversy.

Some netizens have lauded the livestreaming, saying that it provides a platform for students to enrich their lives, earn pocket money and polish their communications skills.

But people like Ma argue that spending a significant amount of time on streaming not only disrupts young people's studies, but also has the potential to disturb other students.

A college junior in Pingdingshan, Henan province, for example, was discovered to have livestreamed 89 times within 25 days, including overnight for several days, according to Legal Daily.

Boluo Xingqiqi7, the Bilibili user, said he has always attached great importance to his livestreaming time, location and environment, "as my principle is not to disturb others."

"I livestream while traveling on trains, so it won't disturb my dormitory mates' rest," he said.

"On trains, I also make an effort to avoid filming train staff and other passengers for lengthy periods, because I don't want to cause them any inconvenience."

Lan Bing, a postgraduate student in the chemistry department at Peking University, said one of her classmates is a livestreamer. The classmate usually goes live in a laboratory after finishing his day's study and ensuring that other students have returned to their dormitories, Lan said.

"It's cool for college students to venture into this emerging business if it brings them happiness, a sense of fulfillment, and money," she said. "But it's important that they have enough time and energy for it, and that it doesn't interfere with their studies, or infringe upon others' privacy."


Legal risks

Lan said her classmate greatly respects people's privacy.

"Although he likes sharing our laboratory's daily activities with viewers in his livestreaming room, he has never disclosed our experiment details, nor personal information of other students," she said.

Ma, from Beijing DHH Law Firm, stressed the importance of protecting privacy and the image rights of other people in livestreams, telling Legal Daily that such activities should not be conducted without regard to their time or location. Individuals should not be filmed without their consent, she added.

On the issue of some college students attracting viewers by vulgar actions, such as skimpily dressed female hosts who dance during livestreams, Ma said such behavior must be prohibited. "Most college students are already adults, meaning that they must take responsibility for their behavior, otherwise spreading harmful information online will lead to legal risks," she added.

In October, China's Cyberspace Administration punished two internet operators, Quark and NetEase, after users posted unhealthy content on their platforms.

Multiple anchors on NetEase engaged in vulgar language and borderline sexual content while dancing during their livestreams. Quark was discovered to have search results displaying a large amount of obscene and pornographic content.

NetEase was eventually ordered to suspend the dancing channel for seven days, and Quark was fined 500,000 yuan ($68,750).


Guidance, suggestions

Given livestreaming and shortvideo hosting have become new professions that college students, and even young children, are eager to try, Zheng, from the Communication University of China, said online platforms need to implement identity verification of users, which is a regulatory and legal requirement.

"Stricter verification must be conducted while providing the account registration service to youngsters aged 16 and 18, and consent from their parents or other guardians must also be obtained," she said.

Ma said university and college students need to be prudent in their livestreams. If they engage in illegal activities and are punished, it could potentially impact their future employment and career prospects, she said.

Schools should also strengthen guidance and education for students, such as educating youngsters on legal boundaries and setting rules for the time, location and manner of their livestreaming, while encouraging high-quality content, Ma said.

In addition, internet platforms should eliminate harmful information and shut down illegal accounts as quickly as possible to ensure a clean online environment.

Cyberspace regulators also need to tighten supervision by taking stronger measures to combat unacceptable behavior in livestreaming rooms, and make greater efforts to promote the healthy development of the emerging industry, she added.

Wang Xiaoyi, a lawyer from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, told Legal Daily that college students should pay more attention to protecting their legitimate rights and interests when signing contracts with livestreaming companies or online platforms.

College students who aspire to work as livestreaming hosts should not only focus on making money, but also be aware of the mental burden and potential health risks that may arise from long hours of continuous streaming, she said.

Wang called on industry associations, social organizations, and businesses to promote self-management of the industry to achieve healthy growth.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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