China removes 370 live-streaming apps, cracks down on online games

On April 17, 2018, local media reported that China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism had inspected over 4,900 live-streaming apps and removed 370 from app stores for failing to comply with regulations. The ministry also blacklisted 14 companies for operating under fraudulent licenses and ordered the shutdown of 57 live-streaming apps produced by these companies.

Larger live-streaming platforms such as Huajiao, Douyu, Huya, 6.cn, Panda.tv are currently undergoing investigation for hosting content promulgating “violence, pornography, gambling, superstition, and other values harmful to public morality.” Regulators are also looking into these platforms for possible infringement of other industry codes, including the requirement for live-streaming hosts to register under their real names and identities. So far, the ministry has identified 190 cases of violation among the 30 audited live-streaming platforms.

In addition to live-streaming apps and platforms, 50 online games are also being inspected by the ministry as part of the government’s ongoing efforts to police China’s gaming industry and protect Chinese children from Internet addictions. Games that fail to implement procedures to curb juvenile addiction, neglect to enforce real-name registration among its users, or contain content that “celebrates violence, incites crime” and include “illicit advertising” will be severely punished, according to the ministry’s inspectors.

A similar probe into China’s mobile games was conducted last year when the Ministry of Culture announced it was ramping up control over China’s fast-growing video game market. Last November, a full-on body search” of 50 randomly selected mobile games was conducted to ensure that the games were up to code with the administration’s regulations and that none contained content that was “violent, obscene, or detrimental to social values.” That round of inspections led to 41 mobile game operators being penalized for content violations.

Chinese government’s anxieties over the deleterious effects online content might have on its youngsters have led the country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder in 2008. More extreme methods of tackling online addiction have included boot camps that employ electroshock therapy and draft laws banning minors from playing games online after midnight. While the draft law has yet to be officially enforced, companies like Tencent have been taking proactive measures in limiting the playtime of its most popular game, “King of Glory” (王者荣耀). Last July, Tencent announced that users under the age of 12 would only be allowed one hour of play each day and wouldn’t be allowed to log into the game after 9 pm. Users between the age of 12 and 18 would be allotted two hours of play time per day.

Much like the gaming industry, China’s live-streaming industry has faced increasing scrutiny from the administration in recent years. Most notably, in 2016, the Ministry of Culture prohibited hosts from suggestively eating bananas in their live streams. Shortly afterward, the government also passed new regulations that stipulated foreign streamers had to apply for a license before they were allowed to launch their live stream channels.

This latest crackdown comes on the heels of a series of actions from the State Administration of Radio and Television (SART) to “clean up the Internet.” In late March, the country’s media regulator released a notice banning videos from “distorting, mocking, and spoofing” classic movies and TV shows. And within the past few weeks, it has ordered the temporary removal of several news apps from Chinese app stores, the permanent shuttering of jokes app Neihan Duanzi(内涵段子), and put pressure on several video platforms, including Watermelon Video(西瓜视频), Huoshan(火山小视频), and Youku, to clean up “vulgar” or “inappropriate” content.