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Young livestreamers spark debate on ethics, regulation

Students promote goji, or Chinese wolfberry, via live streaming in Zhongwei, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, on June 22. (MAO ZHU/XINHUA)

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

The 21-year-old, who is majoring in business management at Beijing Technology and Business University, usually streams live from home between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., and most of his income comes from tips from viewers. Liu demonstrates how to play online games and shares his skills and knowledge with them.

“Live streaming gives me pocket money, and because I like playing games, I don’t feel tired, even if I spend a lot of time on it,” he said, adding that he is considering working full-time in live streaming after graduation.

Another college student, who calls himself Boluo Xingqiqi7 on the popular video platform Bilibili, live-streams stories and videos of his train journeys, but makes almost no money from his efforts.

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

He added: “I like interacting with viewers, which gives me a sense of satisfaction.”

But as live streaming has become more ubiquitous among young people, concerns have been raised about a lack of regulation of the industry.

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

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

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

Zheng Ning, head of the legal department at the Communication University of China’s Cultural Industries Management School, acknowledged that live broadcasting by university students had become a trend, stressing that live streaming hosts over the age of 18 must comply with industry-related laws and regulations.

But given the popularity of live streaming and short videos, universities and colleges can turn these operations into hands-on training for students, she added.

No interference

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

Some netizens have praised the live streaming, saying it provides a platform for students to enrich their lives, earn pocket money and improve their communication skills.

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

A college junior in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, for example, was found to have live-streamed 89 times within 25 days, including overnight for several days, according to Legal Daily.

Boluo Xingqiqi7, the Bilibili user, said that he has always paid great attention to his live streaming time, place and environment, “because my principle is not to disturb others.”

“I’m live-streaming when I’m traveling by train, so it won’t disturb my dorm mates’ rest,” he said.

“On trains, I also make an effort to avoid filming train staff and other passengers for long periods of time, as I don’t want to cause them any inconvenience.”

Lan Bing, a graduate student in the chemistry department of Peking University, said one of her classmates is a live streamer. The classmate usually goes live in a laboratory after finishing his day’s studies and making sure other students have returned to their dorms, Lan said.

“It’s cool for students to get 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 invade the privacy of others.”

Legal risks

Lan said her classmate highly respects people’s privacy.

“Although he likes to share our laboratory’s daily activities with viewers in his live streaming room, he has never disclosed our experiment details, nor personal information about other students,” she said.

Ma, of the Beijing DHH Law Firm, emphasized the importance of protecting the privacy and image rights of other people in live streams, telling Legal Daily that such activities should not be carried out without regard to their time or place. Individuals should not be filmed without their consent, she added.

On the issue of some university students luring viewers through vulgar acts, such as scantily clad female hosts dancing during live streams, Ma said such behavior must be banned. “Most college students are already adults, which means they need to take responsibility for their behavior, otherwise spreading harmful information online will lead to legal risks,” she added.

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

Several anchors on NetEase engaged in vulgar language and sexually explicit content while dancing during their live streams. Quark was found to have search results showing a large amount of obscene and pornographic content.

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

Guidance, suggestions

Given that live streaming and short video hosting have become new professions that university students, and even young children, are eager to try, Zheng, of the Communication University of China, said online platforms must implement user identity verification, which is a legal requirement. .

“Stricter verification must be carried out while providing the account registration service to young people 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 careful in their live streams. If they engage in illegal activities and are punished, it could potentially affect their future employment and career prospects, she said.

Schools should also strengthen guidance and education for students, such as educating youth about legal boundaries and setting rules for the time, place and manner of their live streaming, while encouraging high-quality content, Ma said.

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

Cyberspace regulators must also tighten oversight by taking stronger measures to combat unacceptable behavior in live streaming 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 university students should pay more attention to protecting their legitimate rights and interests when signing contracts with live streaming companies or online platforms.

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

Wang urged trade associations, social organizations and enterprises to promote self-management of the industry to achieve healthy growth.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)

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