China: Entertainment platform blocks streams after players use politically sensitive handles
Chinese entertainment platform Bilibili has imposed restrictions on livestream anchors playing “Goose Goose Duck” after users in China assumed politically sensitive handles referencing Chinese leaders, disgraced former officials and exiled dissidents.
"Dear anchors," Bilibili said in a Jan. 13 notice to livestream hosts using its platform to play the game. "Due to the frequent use of illegal handles in Goose Goose Duck that have seriously violated livestreaming regulations lately ... you will now need to hide your room numbers when live streaming Goose Goose Duck ... you should also avoid forming a game with people you don't know."
"Live streams that are not hidden will be cut off according to Bilibili regulations," said the notice, which was posted to Bilibili's official website.
“Goose Goose Duck,” available on the Steam gaming platform, took off at the start of the year after celebrity livestreamers started broadcasting their gameplay to Chinese users.
To the huge amusement of some viewers, their livestreamed commentary included phrases like "Get ready, Zhou Yongkang and Guo Wengui! We're going to start playing! ... Wang Dan, get ready now!"
Zhou is a former security czar jailed for corruption amid unconfirmed reports that he to topple Xi Jinping in 2015.
Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, in the United States in 2017 after China issued a "red notice" via Interpol for his arrest in April. Guo has aired a number of salacious allegations via his Twitter account, and has blasted the administration of President Xi Jinping as a small clique of mafia-like "kleptocrats."
Wang Dan is a former 1989 student leader who fled to the United States, where he uses his platform to educate followers about recent Chinese history, democracy and analyze the latest developments in Beijing.
China's internet censors , as well as sound-alike expressions referring to party leader Xi Jinping and former Chinese leaders. and the Tiananmen massacre are also blocked.
The 1989 student movement and the that ended it is regarded as a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and scant details about the events of that summer are available on China's highly censored internet.
Other reported usernames included references to late ousted liberal premier Hu Yaobang, whose death sparked the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement, jailed former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and "Professional Hitman Mao Zedong," in a reference to China's late supreme leader.
"This is killing me ... think they've shut down the livestream now," one user commented on a video capture of the livestream posted to Twitter by @jakobsonradical.
A game developer for makers Gaggle using the handle "Herbert" said the company was imposing "stricter supervision" on "influential streamers," although they didn't refer specifically to the political nicknames incident.
"We will be implementing stricter supervision of platform creators, such as influential streamers who use public games," the developer said in a post dated Jan. 13, the same day as Bilibili's statement, to a Steam forum linked to the game.
"Any creator who violates these guidelines or ... breaks the law, may be permanently banned from our games," it said, referring to the need to watch out for "hate speech," a concept that has been used to , and codified into Article 29 of the national security law for Hong Kong.
"We thank Bilibili, Douyu and other platforms for their active cooperation and support, helping us create a happy and harmonious gaming environment for everyone," the post said.
"Harmonious" is a buzzword referring to controls on online speech under the ruling Chinese Communist Party's "public opinion management" system, that goes beyond deletion and filters to keep what users see and say behind the Great Firewall within strictly defined parameters set by the authorities.
"As online communication and mobile phone use spread, under [former president Hu Jintao]'s reigning doctrine, ‘harmony’ became a euphemism for censorship. Censored content is often said to have been 'harmonized'," according to a glossary of online slang and buzzwords compiled by the U.S.-based China Digital Times website.
In January 2019, authorities in the central province of Hubei tried a prominent blogger for , under a 2018 law criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling party’s canon of heroes and martyrs.
“Such a farce”
Beijing-based tech news site Pandaily said the game's popularity in China has been driven by professional players livestreaming their gameplay since last month.
"On Jan. 2, the number of online players of Goose Goose Duck exceeded 470,000, causing the server to crash that night," the site reported on Thursday. "After that, players poured into major social platforms to search for the game, and the next day, it appeared on the trending topics list compiled by Weibo and Bilibili."
It said the game had gone down repeatedly in China due to overloaded servers and hacker attacks.
Social media influencer GFWFrog (Great Firewall Frog) said the irony of the professional gamers calling out the names of banned or disgraced political figures lay with the sheer effectiveness of Chinese Communist Party propaganda in recent decades: the livestreamers quite possibly didn't even know who half of these people were.
"It's such a farce, because a lot of these gaming livestreamers have no knowledge of these taboo figures or events whatsoever," GFWFrog said. "They just read out these nicknames during their livestream, and get their accounts banned by the admins."
He said there are precedents for younger Chinese influencers having no idea when they are getting themselves into hot water, citing the shutdown of beauty influencer Austin Li's account after he displayed a ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in June 2022.
"Once more, we have a vivid depiction of the Austin Li paradox," GFWFrog said. "We can expect similar absurd dramas to play out more and more frequently in future."
“Laughter is a form of resistance”
YouTuber "Someone called Xu who tells the truth" said some gamers were annoyed with the players who picked the nicknames and precipitated the issue.
"This is illogical," he told Radio Free Asia. "Don't blame the players who changed their names: blame the system of censorship that puts so many obstacles in the way of creativity."
Xu said most people had found the incident extremely funny, even supporters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"I think even the little pinks couldn't help laughing when the players started reading out those names without a care," he said. "Laughter is a form of resistance against totalitarianism."
"Once someone has enjoyed this freedom, they won't forget what it felt like, so we will definitely see more of this kind of thing in future," he said. "Cyberpunk should be used to resist cyber-totalitarianism wherever it occurs." (KB/RFA)