Tencent ponders banning infomercials hosted by 'virtual humans' on its flagship video service

Beijing's interest in generative AI has its limits

Chinese web giant Tencent has floated the idea of banning AI-generated videos on its Weixin Channel service, in the grounds that they are low–quality content.

Weixin Channel is a vid-sharing service integrated with WeChat – a service that combines messaging, social media, and e-commerce. WeChat's colossal user base – over a billion Chinese citizens use the app – means it has a central place in its home nation's online life, and in Tencent's status as a giant of the local internet.

One of the forms of content Weixin Channels carries is "livestreams" – a term that in China denotes infomercials. Livestreams are huge in China, and during the nation's giant online sales it is not uncommon for even Western celebrities to be seen spruiking various products.

Beijing is not in love with livestreams, and has previously tried to ensure they're not too racy, don't feature creators who solicit gifts, and don't offer a means of tax evasion.

Tencent – which was not spared when China cracked down on its web giants to curb an explosion in free expression online – would be well and truly aware that Beijing wants livestreams to be wholesome and above board.

Which may be the reason why Chinese media report that WeChat recently floated new legalese for the service that would designate livestreams featuring AI-generated avatars as "low-quality" content and prohibit the sale of software capable of generating "virtual humans." Those who violate the policy would either see their content made harder to find, or have their accounts cancelled.

China's government emphasizes the term "high-quality" in many of its policy pronouncements. For Tencent to suggest AI-generated vids are "low-quality" is likely no accident.

The policy proposal is therefore also a signal that Tencent understands that China wants to ensure that the advent of generative AI doesn't lead to an explosion in problematic content.

Beijing is, however, generally very enthusiastic about AI. The tech is constantly heralded as having the potential to advance local industry and improve society – and it's a big part of China's plans to improve its military.

That particular goal is cited by the US and other nations as justification for sanctions that mean the Middle Kingdom is not permitted to import the most advanced silicon used to power AI applications.

If Tencent's policy is adopted, even the lesser GPUs and associated kit needed to make video nasties may find a less receptive market in China. ®

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