Navigating the world of streaming can be tough, with simple things like animal abuse, nudity, or committing actual crimes enough to get those pesky Twitch mods breathing down your neck. But, in some parts of the world, even a spot of innocent bakery can land you in hot water with the authorities, as one Chinese influencer found out.
Li Jiaqi, or Austin Li as he is known online, is one of China’s most popular salesmen, and China is a nation that has embraced online shopping to say the least. He is also a lipstick-related Guiness World Record holder, a celebrity with over 45m fans and a net worth over $12m, and now a person who may have had his career ended by…a cake in the shape of a tank.
To dive into the details, Austin Li was live streaming on June 4 when a ‘tank-like’ item believed to be a cake appeared on his stream. You can see the offending snack/vehicle of war in the image above, suffice to say it’s not a particularly lifelike depiction of your average mobile war machine, and has no context clues to suggest it is meant to be any specific tank from history.
However, for some reason, shortly after the tank appeared on stream, the broadcast just…ended, with Li Jiaqi going dark on social media in the following days. A show scheduled for the next Sunday came and went without a sign of the online star, leading fans and media to speculate he may have fallen foul of the Chinese regime, who have a history of being a bit touchy when it comes to certain tank-related historical moments.
More to be feared than a tiger
The incident happened on the day before June 5, which many of us will know is the anniversary of the ‘tank man’ incident, a moment from history known around the world, but suppressed in the nation it occurred. Whether this timing contributed to Austin Li’s potential silencing is impossible to say, but we do know that information related to Tiananmen Square has been suppressed in the past.
According to some reports, this story is also creating a lot of public interest in China, with the Guardian writing that a Weibo debate on why the show was stopped created hashtags reaching as many as 100m users. Some even asked if they thought Austin Li was ‘aware’ of the date, with others claiming the first time they heard of Tiananmen Square and tank man was when looking up reasons Li had been banned.
This may be an example of what is known as the ‘Streisand effect’, an often-online phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information. Some users even claimed VPN usage had risen among young people looking for answers as to where the stream went.
If the government were behind the censorship of the stream, they may have unwittingly just made a generation of young Austin Li fans aware of a story they might otherwise have not heard about if the stream had continued, and the cake gone unnoticed. On the other hand, Austin Li may have paid a heavy price for an innocent mistake, as Confucius said, “An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger”.