The chase for followers
Irresponsible use of livestreaming can have tragic consequences for would-be celebrities, while businesses too must learn to use the medium effectively
In an era when the number of viewers or followers defines your fame and the size of your fortune, many people are willing to go the extra mile to gain popularity. But a recent incident involving a Chinese daredevil who died after falling from a 62-storey building in the city of Changsha is a heartbreaking example of the perils of the quest for online celebrity.
Wu Yongning, 26, had captured thousands of followers on the popular social network Weibo for his dramatic short videos showing him perched atop skyscrapers without the use of safety equipment. His original intention, his family said, was to earn enough money to propose to his girlfriend and to pay for the medical treatment of his ill mother.
But engaging in risky activity to gain mass attention and possibly earn money has become a matter of serious public concern.
Another dark side of livestreaming is the proliferation of videos related to violence, pornography and other disturbing material. Thailand was shocked recently by the arrest of a woman accused of setting up a Line chat group to view live sex shows, one of which featured a couple and their three-year-old son.
And just last week in Bangkok, a young woman, apparently distraught over a breakup with a boyfriend, paid a motorcycle taxi driver to take her to a bridge and film her using her phone as she jumped to her death in the Chao Phraya River.
Controlling the content produced by countless independent streamers is very challenging, given that the activities are being recorded live. But chasing viewer numbers while ignoring any sense of social responsibility is not an option.
Dr Apichat Jariyavilasa, a psychiatrist and spokesman for the Department of Mental Health, says social media is a two-way street and one must learn to develop a healthy relationship with it.
"I think everyone in the world is still learning how to best use social media. Livestreaming can be an extremely useful technology that can help spread important information to the wider public simultaneously. But if this technology is being misused, it could be dangerous," he told Asia Focus.
Dr Apichat observed that being addicted to "likes" or followers is common nowadays, and those who fit the profile can be divided into two main groups. The first includes those who can use the numbers of "likes" and "follows" for business purposes as the help define the credibility and popularity of a web page or online store.
The latter group consists of people who link their self-worth to the interest shown by friends or followers on social media. They check their social media pages several times a day to see whether their latest post attracted "likes", and many get worried or even depressed if it didn't.
The desire for attention and seeking social approval are in fact normal ... up to a point. But it is important that social media users remain in control of their engagement.
"I would advise adult users to always be aware of their social media activities and avoid overusing them, especially during working hours," said Dr Apichat. "Prioritising spending time with family and taking care of health issues are important. For young children, limited use of social media with parental controls is highly recommended."
It is therefore very important for app creators, regulators and streamers in this lucrative industry to ensure that this powerful tool is being used to encourage users to employ them in a creative manner rather than the opposite.
For businesses, meanwhile, the creative application of livestreaming has the potential to give a major lift to sales. One such merchant interviewed by Asia Focus said livestreaming has changed the landscape of buying and selling activities.
He said he started livestreaming over a year ago and discovered that it was a very effective tool to sell products, especially when live auctions become part of the activity. There are thousands of viewers willing to bid for the products being showcased and discussed on a live broadcast. Each livestream session can last up to two to three hours.
A typical live programme features a range of items from beauty products, apparel, handbags and other goods, both new and second-hand, being displayed live. Viewers can communicate with the merchant by writing their comments.
"The key success factor for selling items on livestreaming is the credibility of the merchants themselves," said the seller, who asked not to be named. "On a live broadcast, viewers can only look at the products but cannot touch, smell or test the products. Therefore, those who can ensure that their selected products are guaranteed and reliable will get more attention."
He noted that sometimes viewers treat shopping on livestreaming as an entertainment activity that allows them to communicate with many people who share the same interests. It then becomes a type of community, and many buyers and sellers sometimes set up meetings and become friends later on.
Asked about the future of livestreamed shopping, he said more sellers would start using the medium as part of their sales strategies, but what will define success will not be the technology but the broadcaster's character and content.
"Livestreaming merchants must always keep themselves updated and find techniques to capture viewers' interest. In the end, those groups of buyers will have all the products you are selling; therefore, the selection of new products should always be creative and up to date."