Regulating livestreaming 'sick beauty' stunts calls for innovation

Wan Lixin
Their 'physical conditions' may earn sympathy, but their state of health in terms of psychology or ideology merits scrutiny.
Wan Lixin

No sooner had we heard about the demise of foyuan than we are confronted with a new strain of suspicious livestreaming stunts, this time in hospital sickrooms.

It is about bingyuan, with "bing" suggesting "sick," and "yuan" a slightly antiquated honorific for "a beautiful women."

In other words, they are livestreaming sick beauties, usually captured in a hospital bed, clad elegantly with heavy makeup, invariably recovering from a medical condition.

One image shows a woman with long tresses half reclining on the hospital bed, allegedly recuperating from a cancer. Her left arm is on an intravenous drip, while her right hand shows a big "V" sign, the very image of not taking her fate lying down in the face of adversity.

It is when they begin to talk that you begin to sense something is wrong.

Yes, they start with a description of their illnesses, their therapy and their recovery, and then they begin to suggest the efficacy of something they have used, for instance a particular brand of adhesive surgical membrane, or a scar-reducing sheet.

One bingyuan reportedly first had a breast nodule surgery, and then moved on to a lymphoma surgery, and in the hindsight of her recovery she hinted at the anti-cancer properties of some neutraceutical.

In response to accusations that these bingyuan are no more than online scammers trying to palm off a certain product by exploiting their feigned illnesses, some are quick to refute by displaying their hospital examination reports, and threatening to sue for defamation.

Their physical conditions earn them sympathy, but their state of health in terms of psychology or ideology also merits scrutiny.

In China, advertising about the therapeutic effects of a drug or a neutraceutical is subject to the most stringent regulation.

But a wholesale ban is difficult with bingyuan livestreaming, unlike in the case of foyuan.

Hospitals reveal that they have little control over items carried into wards by patients, so long as they are not contraband, nor over livestreaming within the sickroom, so long as these activities do not constitute an encroachment on privacy, or violate medical ethics.

While exaggerating the benefits of health foods and promoting their use to treat diseases are prohibited, in a medical scenario it could be more nuanced.

It is very easy to hint at the therapeutic property of a nutraceutical or product without saying so in so many words. Actually, a livestreaming bingyuan could simply pose with some products she has allegedly used without actually saying anything.

China's livestreaming e-commerce industry has witnessed phenomenal growth in the pandemic, with some social media influencer or celebrity marketing proving to be extremely lucrative.

For instance, China's top livestreaming host Viya had sold 31.09 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) worth of products in 2020, according to a report by iiMedia Research.

Livestreaming marketing has its value in stimulating consumption, but the fabulous fortunes amassed by a few celebrities have also fertilized a generation of emulators recklessly experimenting with new, and often shady, livestreaming tactics.

Obviously, to control this innovative new marketing mode, regulators need to constantly reinvent themselves to keep up with the changing situation.

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