Asia

China video site Bilibili to add 1,000 censors after worker dies

Chinese online video streaming service Bilibili plans to hire 1,000 content censors after the recent death of a 25-year-old member sparked heated discussions about overwork in the country’s internet industry.

The young man, nicknamed Muse Muxin, was deputy team leader of the graphics and text censoring team at Bilibili’s office in the central city of Wuhan. He had a sudden brain aneurysm at home on February 4 and died in hospital, Bilibili said in a statement on the Weibo social network.

In addition to the new staff, Bilibili said it would set up a counselling service to help ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of its employees. It had 2,413 content monitors at the end of 2020.

The death comes amid a growing rejection of the technology sector’s ingrained culture of overwork — nicknamed “996” in reference to 9am to 9pm working hours six days a week — among young people who are instead embracing a laid-back philosophy of “laying flat”.

With Beijing also pushing companies to improve working conditions, a number of major internet companies have made moves to reduce overtime and weekend hours.

In its statement about Muse, Bilibili said he had worked eight hours a day and taken two days off per week during the recent Lunar New Year holiday period, denying that he had put in overtime or worked night shifts then.

“Content security review differs from other professions in that it necessitates the presence of personnel 24/7,” the company added. “The work is similar to any . . . public-sector job, which cannot be suspended even over the Lunar New Year, and must be completed through shifts.”

China’s authorities demand internet platforms take primary responsibility for censoring user-generated content. As a result, the largest ones have hired tens of thousands of censors to monitor posted materials while also often deploying artificial intelligence to try to catch forbidden terms and references.

This article is from Nikkei Asia, a global publication with a uniquely Asian perspective on politics, the economy, business and international affairs. Our own correspondents and outside commentators from around the world share their views on Asia, while our Asia300 section provides in-depth coverage of 300 of the biggest and fastest-growing listed companies from 11 economies outside Japan.

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Still, the authorities frequently find flaws with the platforms’ thoroughness.

Last year, Weibo was hit with 44 fines totalling Rmb14.3mn ($2.25mn) for letting through “illegal information”. Douban, known for discussion forums on popular culture but lacking a large censor team, incurred Rmb9mn in such fines.

Xioahongshu, a lifestyle-focused app, incurred a Rmb300,000 penalty last month for failing to block sexually suggestive videos featuring minors.

A Weibo user who said he had been a content censor at another company commented: “You can never complete the amount of daily censoring work assigned to you, so you would have to work overtime voluntarily without overtime pay. My previous employer only provided free snacks.”

Bilibili, which is backed by both Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding, has struggled with widening losses, like other Chinese video services. Its net loss ballooned 113 per cent to Rmb4.7bn in the first nine months of 2021 compared with a year before, even as revenues grew two-thirds to Rmb13.6bn.

Bilibili’s shares have tumbled 80 per cent over the past year.

A version of this article was first published by Nikkei Asia on February 9 2022. ©2022 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved

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