Why China wants online influencers to be “qualified” on certain topics

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What’s happening? Social media influencers in China are now required to have qualifications to speak on certain topics, including education, financial law and medicine, state regulators said June 21, the agency reports.

The latest rules from the two Chinese government agencies establish a “code of conduct” for online influencers.

What do the regulations say? For content that requires a “higher professional level,” live streamers must have appropriate qualifications to speak on those topics, according to an 18-point guideline jointly released by China’s State Administration of Radio and Television and the ministry for culture and tourism. However, the rules do not mention the qualifications that the influencers should have.

In the same order, China has also banned live streamers from showing an exorbitant lifestyle on social media. They were banned from selling luxury products such as cars, clothes, phones, bags, etc.

Why does it matter? Social media influencers around the world remain fairly uncontrolled in terms of what they advertise or promote. A simple example of this freedom is the advertising for unverified dietary supplements that made a splash a few years ago. Globally, influencer marketing is seen as a type of “covert” advertising that has so far come under social media usage. And restricting the use of social media, as we know, is a fairly popular form of censorship. Therefore, the fact that influencers have been caught in this web should not come as a surprise, but what should worry people is that these new rules could be upheld as a model to curb or control social media in other jurisdictions.

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Why did Beijing come up with these rules? The latest rules continue Beijing’s efforts to “clean up” its wildly popular live-streaming sector, which includes some of China’s biggest companies from entertainment conglomerate Tencent, e-commerce giant Alibaba and TikTok owner ByteDance. Influencers often use such platforms to sell products and can generate millions of dollars in sales in a matter of hours.

What other social media rules has China been developing lately? Over the past 16 months, China has enacted new regulations in various areas of the tech sector in a bid to curb the power of its once freewheeling tech giants. There has also been a push for greater control over areas Beijing sees as influencing society, including video games, live-streaming and celebrity culture.

Parallels in India: While India does not have specific rules to review citizens’ social media use, the country recently unveiled new guidelines to curb misleading advertising, particularly online.

The Guidelines for Prevention of Irreleading Advertising and Endorsements for Irreleading Advertising, 2022 goes into the details by regulating proxies, free claims, decoy advertising, and ads targeting children. The guidelines also set out dos and don’ts for advertisers and backers, and the content of disclaimers in ads.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body for the advertising sector, also released guidelines for online advertising and compiled a list of 400 cryptocurrency ads featuring influencers that failed to comply with their standards.

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