China's Bilibili cracks down on virtual live-streamers' malicious content

PHOTO: Facebook/bilibiliweb

There is no escaping China’s tight live-streaming rules even if a programme’s host is a virtual character.

Popular video-sharing services provider Bilibili plans to clamp down on the activities of virtual live-streamers seeking to generate more user traffic with “malicious content that challenges good morals and public order”, according to an announcement published on the company’s website on Thursday (July 21)

Shanghai -based Bilibili said it will target various pornographic content and other “malicious behaviour and remarks”, such as deliberately hyping up social issues or conveying bad values.

The 13-year-old company, which initially gained popularity as China’s online home for fans of anime, comics and games, has a specific page on its website where virtual live-streamers are found. Users interact with these anime-like virtual idols by sending so-called bullet comments, a Bilibili feature that enables one-line text messages to float on screen and vie for viewers’ attention.

A handout photo. Bullet comments fill the screen of popular Bilibili virtual live-streamer Hiseki Erio, an idol with 481,000 fans on the platform as of Feb 16, 2022. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Chen Rui, the chairman and chief executive of Bilibili, said in a speech in June last year that there were more than 32,000 virtual influencers conducting live-streaming sessions on the platform from June 2020 to May 2021, representing a 40 per cent year-on-year increase.

Bilibili did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on Friday.

The company’s latest initiative falls in line with Beijing’s recent policies to monitor, review and clean up online content in the world’s biggest internet market .

In June this year, the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism jointly published an 18-point guideline outlining the qualifications online influencers must have to discuss certain subjects. That new regulation also listed 31 banned behaviours during live-streaming sessions.

In May, the NRTA required all online films and shows to obtain a broadcasting licence before these can be made available to the public. It puts this segment of the internet market on the same level as China’s film industry, which is subject to some of the toughest censorship in the world.

Live streaming has become a significant business for Bilibili. This forms part of the company’s value-added services operation, which accounted for 40 per cent of its 5.05 billion yuan (S$1 billion) total revenue in the first quarter of this year.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.