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A man holding a phone walks past a sign of ByteDance's Douyin app in Hangzhou, China, on October 18, 2019. Photo: Reuters

TikTok sister app Douyin removes thousands of accounts for flaunting wealth

  • Douyin owner ByteDance said the platform has banned and removed thousands of accounts and videos for “money worship” and other inappropriate behaviour
  • Wealth inequality remains a challenge in China even though it has shown a declining trend in recent years

ByteDance has punished thousands of accounts on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, for flaunting wealth in short videos.

The Beijing-based company said it had removed more than 2,800 such videos and punished nearly 4,000 accounts since the start of the year, according to a post on its news aggregator Jinri Toutiao on Friday.

It listed several types of content that fall into the banned category, such as those deliberately displaying large amounts of cash and promoting “money worship”. Other examples include videos featuring “elites with rags-to-riches stories”, as well as those ridiculing people who are not wealthy.

Minors are also forbidden to share excessive amounts of luxury-related content or engage in other behaviours that are considered “irrational wealth flaunting”. Accounts that helped people create such content to attract eyeballs were also punished.

In one of the banned videos, a user was seen showing off a large amount of cash and luxury items such as iPhones, car keys and expensive watches, according to ByteDance. Another video showed a user throwing money. Both videos were removed and the related accounts were banned.

A woman sitting in front of her residence in Baojing county in central China's Hunan province on January 12, 2021. Photo: AFP

China’s rapid economic growth over the past four decades raised living standards, but also coincided with a widening wealth gap. While the country’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality on a scale of 0 to 1, has shown a declining trend in the past decade, it has remained above 0.4 for years, according to official statistics. A level of 0.4 is usually regarded by the United Nations as a red line for inequality.

In 2019, China’s Gini coefficient, which stood at 0.465, was identical to the level in the United States recorded by the US Census Bureau.

Last year, China saw its number of ultra-wealthy residents, defined as people whose net worth exceeds US$30 million excluding their primary residence, increased by 16 per cent, according to property consultancy Knight Frank.

Content moderation has remained a challenge for all Chinese social media platforms. Despite the help of artificial intelligence, most companies still hire large teams of human moderators to scan and catch content that violate government rules. ByteDance currently has more than 20,000 content-vetting workers, according to a report last month by Chinese media outlet LatePost.

Douyin said it removed more than 170,000 videos and permanently banned more than 190,000 accounts in January for violating the platform’s guidelines, such as publishing pornographic content or pretending to be celebrities.