Sunday , April 14 2024

Rising trend of bizarre livestreams for money raises concerns

Hai Nam, 28, livestreams himself performing strange requests by TikTok viewers for virtual gifts he then exchanges for money.

For the past two months, this 10:00pm sign-on time has been the Yen Bai Province resident’s main source of income.

This has become Nam’s main job for the past two months. Initially, Nam livestreamed for one or two hours during the day, fulfilling viewers’ requests to sing, dance, and imitate animal sounds. In return, viewers gave virtual gifts to Nam. The more ridiculous the request, the greater the value of the gift.

The livestream became increasingly popular and the requests became more difficult, such as eating 10 chili peppers at once, holding a 20-liter water bottle and squatting 100 times, or jumping into a ditch in the middle of the night.

“The longer I stream into the night, the more gifts I receive. That’s why I often livestream from night to dawn,” Nam said.

He earns from a few hundred thousand to a few million dong daily.

“The monthly income is two or three times more than an average worker’s salary,” Nam continued.

Young girl performs viewer-requested challenges for virtual gifts. Screenshot from Nov. 19, 2023

Young girl performs viewer-requested challenges for virtual gifts. Screenshot from Nov. 19, 2023

Every day, Bao Nhi, 22 years old, a Dong Nai resident, puts on makeup like a Japanese anime character and livestreams on TikTok from 9 p.m. On the left corner of the screen, she attaches a “price list” of actions. For example, if a viewer gives a rose, she will slap her thigh, if a pig is given, Nhi will blow a kiss or shake her butt, if a puppy is given, she will ruffle her hair or do a handstand.

“I don’t make much money from this job, but it’s enough for my living expenses,” the young girl said.

Hai Nam and Bao Nhi are two examples of the NPC livestream trend. NPC stands for Non-Playable Character, a character controlled by the computer in games. When a person chooses to livestream as an NPC, viewers can control the livestreamer by sending money and buying gifts. Streamers get 30% of the value from these gifts. To increase the number or value of gifts, many streamers do not hesitate to perform strange, dangerous, or provocative, even sensual, actions.

NPC streaming is thriving in many Western countries and China, and it began appearing in Vietnam in early 2023. A VnExpress survey showed that an average Vietnamese TikTok user interested in viewing NPCs will watch 20-30 NPC livestreams sessions like this, mainly made by young people, from 10 pm to 4 am every day.

Nguyen Van Tam, a Department of Economics lecturer at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City, said that more and more social network users in Vietnam consider NPC livestreaming their main job. “They are people who do not have capital or business talent to do online sales, nor do they have the outstanding talent needed to be content creators, such as singing or acting.”

Hai Nam said he likes doing NPC livestreams because it’s simple and doesn’t require a degree.

Bao Nhi said: “I do it because I saw other people made easy money from it…I used to do it when I had time in my schedule, but now it has become my main job. I put a lot of time and effort into it instead begging for money.”

Dr. Vu Thu Huong, an educational expert, believes that many NPC livestreamers are making the same mistake as Bao Nhi.

“Receiving remuneration for creating valuable products for society is legitimate, different from doing meaningless, even ridiculous things,” Huong said.

Man undertakes weight lifting challenge in mud field for TikTok viewer gifts. Screenshot from Nov. 1, 2023

Man undertakes weight lifting challenge in mud field for TikTok viewer gifts. Screenshot from Nov. 1, 2023

As for why NPC livestreams became popular, Dr. Vu Thu Huong raised two points. One is that society is becoming more desensitized to nonsensical acts, causing actions that should be boycotted to be praised and encouraged. Second, the development of social networks makes it easy for young people to access and imitate these acts.

“Exchanging gifts for money can also be risky and dangerous, and could negatively affect those who participate in it, as well as the local community and society,” Huong said.

As for viewers, experts say they are wasting time and money on useless activities, giving rise to the idea that using money can control everything. Making huge profits from livestream sessions gives young people the illusion that they don’t need knowledge or hard work to still enjoy themselves. Moreover, people who respond to this trend easily may cross ethical and legal boundaries.

Huong said , instead of waiting for accidents to happen, state management agencies need to take preventive measures from the beginning, not allowing these videos the chance to go viral.

The NPC livestream trend has caused a wave of concern in many countries because it creates a viewpoint that lowers human value and dignity. Jenna Drenten, a sociologist at Loyola University of the U.S., has noticed that more and more people are willing to do anything to make money on social media. “It’s online begging,” the expert said.

Man takes on cold water pouring challenge for a rose gift during early morning livestream. Screenshot from Oct. 12, 2023

Man takes on cold water pouring challenge for a rose gift during early morning livestream. Screenshot from Oct. 12, 2023

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Information and Informatics has repeatedly asked social network service providers to block and delete NPC livestream videos. Tri Rismaharini, Indonesian Interior Minister, called on the public to report these videos to authorities and called for a stop to begging, both in real life and on social networks.

Hai Nam admitted that every day he had to pour ice water on his body at midnight, hold a water jug and squat 50 times, jump into a river, or constantly eat hot peppers and raw food, causing his health to decline. Many times, Nam felt dizzy and nauseous after finishing his acts, forcing him to stop the stream.

On other occasions, he even had to take a few days off to recover from eating too much spicy food, which damaged his skin.

“If you don’t create unique challenges, viewers will leave and your income will also decrease. I know they are dangerous, but I accept the trade-off,” Nam said.

As for Bao Nhi, performing challenges with sexual undertones caused her to receive many obscene comments. Her personal accounts were constantly bombarded by threats and harassments. But she remains undeterred.

“They’re only online bluffs – something that can’t stop me from making money,” she said.

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