Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is suspending users who speak Cantonese on its livestreaming platform, according to a Guangzhou-based livestreamer. The company attributes the suspensions to issues with their content safety mechanisms.

Why it matters: This shows the measures Bytedance has to take to comply with China’s strict online content regulations.

  • China’s internet watchdogs accused Bytedance in 2018 of hosting “vulgar” content on its popular news aggregator Jinri Toutiao and the company has since stepped up efforts to moderate content on its platforms.

Details: Bing Cong, a liverstreamer based in Guangzhou, told TechNode on Thursday that his livestreams on Douyin have received three 10-minute suspensions over the past three weeks. Along with references to livestreaming rules, the app also prompted him to speak Mandarin “as much as possible,” Bing added.

  • Douyin cited the app’s “livestreamers’ conduct code” as a reason for the punishments on March 18 and March 25, according to screenshots provided by Bing.
  • The code bans bare skin, smoking, and violent content. It doesn’t include rules on the use of dialects or languages other than Mandarin, according to TechNode’s review.
  • Bing’s livestream was suspended for 10 minutes again on Wednesday. The app’s reason for that suspension was “using language that cannot be recognized.”
  • In a statement to TechNode on Thursday, Bytedance said Douyin is “building out content safety capabilities” and that Cantonese is currently not “fully supported.” 
  • A Bytedance spokesperson did not explain what the company’s “content safety capabilities” are and why they don’t yet support Cantonese.
  • The Cantonese ban on Douyin’s livestreaming platform was first reported by Guangzhou-based news site Yangcheng Net on Monday. A Twitter thread about the Cantonese ban on Douyin posted on Wednesday has been retweeted more than 1,000 times on the social media site as of Thursday.
  • Bing operates a Douyin account with more than 120,000 followers that promotes Cantonese culture. “Dialects are part of the Chinese culture and there is no law banning the use of dialects,” he told TechNode.
  • “Content moderation is the platform’s job, they can’t just deal with [dialect streaming] in a one-size-fits-all way,” Bing said.
  • He said many other Cantonese speaking bloggers he knows are also having the same problem when livestreaming on Douyin.

Context: Cantonese is a Chinese dialect spoken by more than 60 million people around the world, including in financial hub Hong Kong. However, the Chinese government is pushing the nation to speak the country’s only official language, Mandarin. Bytedance is facing increasing attention for its content moderation policies as well.

  • The authorities’ attempts to restrain the use of Cantonese have sparked wide resistance in Guangdong province, where it originates. In 2010 there was a 1,000-person protest against a proposal to force a local television network to abandon Cantonese.
  • Bytedance has engaged in a protracted battle for its image overseas for Douyin’s overseas version TikTok, facing scrutiny outside China for its content moderation practices. US lawmakers are accusing the popular short video app of censoring content to please the Chinese government and say that it poses a threat to national security.
  • It was reported in December TikTok has curbed the number of times short videos featuring disabled, overweight, or LGBT individuals—those deemed “highly vulnerable to cyberbullying”—could be viewed.
  • The Intercept reported last month TikTok has instructed moderators to suppress content created by users deemed “too ugly, poor, or disabled” for the platform, citing internal documents. The company also told content moderators to censor content that harmed “national honor” or about “state organs such as police.”
  • The Guardian reported in September that TikTok instructed its moderators to censor videos that are deemed politically sensitive by Beijing, citing leaked documents detailing the platform’s guidelines. The company said in November that the guidelines were retired in May.