WeChat Channels censorship goes beyond government restrictions, banning spanking, nose picking, and wearing underwear on head

·4-min read

Flirting, nose picking, tarot card readings and police uniforms are just some of the things banned in live-streaming on Tencent Holdings’ super app WeChat, according to a guideline issued by the Chinese tech behemoth on Thursday that details hundreds of red lines for performers.

The extensive “do not do” list, which Tencent says could expand in the future, covers user behaviour for WeChat Channels, a video section introduced to the chat app to take on TikTok sister app Douyin, owned by ByteDance, and its rival Kuaishou, known for their short-video and live-streaming content. Live-streaming has long faced strict regulations in China.

In addition to listing the usual red lines in China’s laws and regulations – things that include leaking state secrets, insulting official heroes and martyrs, promoting terrorism, and broadcasting news without authorisation – the list serves as a reminder to live-streamers to watch what they say and do in front of the camera.

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No bikinis in the bedroom: China’s war to ‘clean up’ the internet

Words and acts that do not align with “positive social values” are banned. This could be superstitious content such as fortunetelling, politically sensitive things like “predicting a nation’s fate and government policy trends”, or even something as simple as guessing a baby’s gender during pregnancy.

Coffins, tombstones and dead bodies are also banned, as are shots inside nightclubs and foot massage lounges. Depictions of self-harm such as suicide attempts are prohibited, as well.

The guidelines include a long list of banned sexual content, but some of it is markedly pointed at women.

Female broadcasters are banned from wearing bikinis or dresses that show cleavage. “Female pants or skirts [should not] be more than 2cm below the belly button” and “the hem of female pants and skirts [should not be] higher than the hip line”.

The rules for male broadcasters are simpler: they cannot be topless or wearing only underwear.

Users also cannot wear erotic clothing such as “see-through clothes, flesh-coloured tights, fishnet stockings, suspenders, triangle shorts and low-rise shorts”.

Other types of banned behaviour include repeatedly bending over to reveal cleavage or lifting a skirt. Simulated sex acts, repeated squatting, seductive lip licking, chest rubbing and hip shaking are also all banned.

No shaking hips? Elvis Presley impersonators might want to avoid WeChat Channels. Photo: James Wendlinger
No shaking hips? Elvis Presley impersonators might want to avoid WeChat Channels. Photo: James Wendlinger

The company singles out “vulgar pornographic games”, as well, giving spanking and guessing the colour of underwear as examples.

Users should also not zoom in to show particular body parts, including breasts, hips, waists and thighs.

Banned sexual content is not all human-centric: users cannot explicitly focus on animal sexual activities, either.

Users are also prohibited from wearing underwear on their head under a section prohibiting content that could “cause discomfort”.

Other banned clothing includes government and police uniforms, including those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Tencent’s WeChat reinforces short video-sharing, live-streaming functions

Similar to platforms overseas, WeChat bans dangerous content that viewers might try to imitate. Examples include eating non-food items such as socks or instant noodles made with water left over from washing feet. Examples of banned dangerous activities also include smashing cactuses with bare hands and making popcorn in an aluminium can.

Many banned activities include things that are popular and can be found all over sites like YouTube. WeChat does not want to see skydiving, bungee jumping, free climbing, paragliding, parachuting, diving or high-rise parkour on its platform.

Smoking, drinking and swearing are also banned, along with showing tattoos. And no live-streaming from bed, whether lying, leaning or bending over it, or using bedsheets or quilts as props.

And for users who are able to avoid all that, there is also an age limit: no minors unless they are accompanied by an adult. Underage users are also not allowed to act as live-streaming stars or models.

Handout image shows binge drinkers consuming beer on social media in China. There has been a backlash against binge-drinking live-streamers after authorities previously cracked down on mukbang, or binge-eating live-streamers. A man died in 2019 from binge drinking while chasing live-streaming views. Photo: Sohu
Handout image shows binge drinkers consuming beer on social media in China. There has been a backlash against binge-drinking live-streamers after authorities previously cracked down on mukbang, or binge-eating live-streamers. A man died in 2019 from binge drinking while chasing live-streaming views. Photo: Sohu

Users who violate the guidelines could see their accounts shut down or face some other punishments.

The long, unusually specific list of prohibited behaviours goes further than government regulations, showing the lengths to which Tencent will go to show Beijing that it is working to protect its users from content the state deems unhealthy.

It also comes as Tencent tries to differentiate the relatively young WeChat Channels from rival platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, which include a lot of content banned on WeChat like dancing in nightclubs. According to the latest data from each platform, WeChat Channels had 200 million users by last June, Douyin had 600 million daily active users last August, and Kuaishou had about 300 million daily active users at the end of 2020.

At the China Internet Radio & Video Convention on Thursday, Tencent vice-president Sun Zhonghuai criticised short-video platforms in China, saying they are pumping vulgar content to users like pig feed to the masses. He did not mention any competitors by name.

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