China steps up censorship on booming short video industry

Short video platforms storm into Chinas's internet. Photo: VCG

Short video platforms which stormed into China's internet over the past two years will be subjected to stricter censorship and potentially higher costs after authorities introduced new regulations ranging from barring defaming the Communist Party leaders to sexual moaning.

The China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA), one of the largest administrative internet associations in the country, released a guideline on Wednesday for the industry players, including Tencent, ByteDance, and Kuaishou.

"All short video contents, including title, introduction, and viewer comments, need to be reviewed," said the guideline. "Platforms should set up a content reviewing team with a 'strong political sense', and its members are required to be one thousandth of the total short videos published within a single day."

The guideline details 100 categories of banned content, including that related to spreading pornography, going against national policies, and undermining social stability. 

Users are barred from creating animated images and short videos from patented TV series or films as part of country's efforts to protect intellectual property rights, as well as national leaders' speeches or mimicking their gestures and dress, according to the guideline.

Platforms are expected to adopt new technologies such as facial recognition to promote real-name verification of their users.

Video makers who disobey the rules should be banned from posting for periods of one year, three years, or in the worst the case, a lifetime.

The guideline also said that the CNSA will provide professional training to all reviewers.

The move to streamline the short video industry came amid a six-month online clean-up campaign launched by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month.

The regulations were widely taken as a new move by the governing communist party to tighten its grip on the internet and its control over the society as a whole..

The CNSA guideline has triggered many discussions in the industry, and some insiders have cast doubts on the feasibility of the rules.

"The guideline will inevitably increase the costs of the platforms and enhance reviewers' workload," said an unnamed investor. "We will wait and see how relevant rules will be implemented in the coming days."

Booming short video industry

Since 2017, short videos, typically lasting between 15 seconds to a few minutes, have become one of the fastest-growing trends in China.

Packed with music and special effects, they are usually interesting and creative for both their makers and viewers.

It is reported that there were about 594 million short video platform users in China in 2018.

Douyin, also known as TikTok in the English-speaking world, said the platform had over 400 million domestic monthly active users and over 200 million daily active users as of October.

Kuaishou, Huoshan, Miaopai, and Meipai are other popular short video apps among Chinese netizens, which have been estimated to be over 800 million as of June.

According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, China's short video market is expected to be valued at 11.8 billion yuan in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 106 percent.

However, problems related to pornography, rumors, and copyright infringements are widespread in the booming industry due to the lack of effective supervision.

In late June, a pupil posted a short video of her mother taking a bath on Douyin, a move that shocked both the authorities and the public, and some parents called for tighter control and censorship over the short video apps or platforms.

The video went viral on other platforms and garnered over 860,000 views before being deleted.

In July, Douyin reportedly removed nearly 28,000 short videos and permanently blocked over 33,000 user accounts.

Meanwhile, many parents have also raised concerns about short video addiction, saying that their children were heavy users of the apps.

"My son even picked up too-mature and dangerous behaviors from the videos, which worried me a lot," one of them said.

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