Livestreamers use AI to pass themselves off as celebrities

Chinese netizens are calling out livestreamers for “using AI to change faces”, fanning the flames of the recent debate over AI-related fraud and copyright infringement.

According to reports published online between May 22 and 28, several livestreamers are using deep fake technology to replace their own faces with celebrities’ to drive up sales. Reports did not name specific accounts but referred to a group of “ordinary” live streamers, implying that they are little-known channels with small followings.  These creators may have paid up to 35,000 RMB (4943.29 USD) to access online tutorials on deep fake technology and reportedly used the faces of actresses Yang Mi, Dilreba Dilmurat, and Angelababy.

This is just the latest case in a wave of AI-related fraud hitting the Chinese internet this month. One of the most high-profile cases saw Bilibili users clock up millions of views by recreating the voice of pop singer Stefanie Sun using AI. The topic went viral on Weibo, sparking discussions over whether this kind of content violates Sun’s copyright as an artist.

Netizens were similarly concerned over the use of stars’ faces in livestreams, with some even calling for the technology to be banned. Avid fans of the actresses whose faces were used were concerned about the potential reputational damage incurred by the performers.

One earnest commenter summed up the controversy, “If people want to make money that’s fine, but please everyone be reasonable and legal! AI should not be used in this way.” A video posted by Red Star News summarising the case received 20 million views on Weibo (China’s Twitter) and the topic hashtag has received over 100 million views.

It is unclear whether the face-changing livestreamers intended to convince viewers they were really watching a celebrity livestream or simply hoped to generate traffic through shock value. In either case, fraud is not new to China’s livestreaming industry.

In 2021, multiple MCN agencies (multi-channel agencies which manage livestreamers) were found to be using click farms to generate fake views for their creators. Since viewing figures took a slight dip after the early months of the pandemic, livestreamers and their managers have been fighting to go viral in the highly pressurised industry.


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