Douyin cracks down on “sadfishing” accounts

Douyin has announced new regulations after the platform saw a spate of content creators falsely claiming “public welfare” status.

Across April and May of this year, Douyin removed 1,131 videos and banned 3,518 accounts over fake charitable activities. This “sadfishing” content typically features elderly people living in poor conditions telling a tragic story intended to elicit viewers’ sympathy. Similar stories come up continuously: a farmer with a bad harvest, a factory owner saddled with debt, a single mother trying to get by on limited income.

Some of these self-proclaimed “public welfare” channels are now being called out as fake, with some of the poverty-stricken streamers apparently actors hired by media agencies. These business practices violate China’s anti-unfair market competition laws and offenders may be fined between 200,000 – 1,000,000 RMB.

“Sadfishing” has long been an issue on Chinese social media, with one of the most egregious cases being the arrest of a Sichuanese livestreamer in 2021 for exaggerating the poverty of his local region. The streamer reportedly built fake dilapidated huts and made children cry in order to create the aesthetic of abject poverty, encouraging viewers to buy goods from him.

Douyin has now announced that public welfare accounts must be operated by a registered charity or non-profit organisation. These kinds of accounts are also not allowed to engage in profit-making activities on the platform, for instance, they cannot sell products via livestream. Douyin will continue to scan the site for fraudulent cases, targeting content with keywords like “dilapidated house”, “hard life” and “left-behind young and old people”.


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