Digital media refers to the information that is transmitted through a digital device or screen. It is essentially any form of media that depends on an electronic device for its creation, distribution, view, and storage.
This form of media allows for the efficient transfer of information on a global scale, but data security issues pose a serious threat. Due to globalisation, this ease of communication is increasingly important as the demand for global communication is growing as the world begins to slowly open back up after Covid.
In an ever expanding global network, the personalisation of digital media and protection of individual privacy is becoming increasingly important, there has also been a focus on artificial intelligence, consumer consent, as well as an increase in the need for mobile accessibility in recent years. This has encouraged the development of new income opportunities, live streaming has largely contributed to the development of both formal and informal relationships being formed between viewers and online personalities in a time of isolation.
With approximately 443 million people engaging with live streams in China alone, live streams are often seen as a way for people to connect with those who have similar interests, without the restriction of physical location. This has led to the formation of online communities, with streamers often acting as key leaders with significant influence. Asia dominated the online streaming industry, with so many of the population turning to live streams to make an income during the Covid pandemic, it has led to the development of what is known as the “gig economy”.
In this week seminar, we looked at Hao Wu’s documentary, People’s Republic of Desire (2018). This text focused on the live streaming industry in China, and highlighted the concept of digital transaction that take place in the streaming industry. Digital transactions, can be broadly defined as online or automated transactions that take place between two parties without the physical exchange of tangible objects, ultimately saving time and money resulting in a more efficient process.
Wu’s documentary highlights the evolving nature of online presence with a focus on online streaming in Asia, with the appearance of reputable streamers such as Big Li and Shen Man, utilising platforms such as 17 Live to stream their content as a primary source of income. This documentary also emphasises the challenges that are faced by streamers. The need to constantly stay up to date with their approach and differ themselves from competitors, streamers have an overwhelming need to remain relevant and highly ranked to maintain their income. With the threat losing everything they have worked for looming over their shoulder, the environment is evidently toxic with fans quickly moving on and finding new streamers that hold their interest.
The idea of creating an online personality for financial gain has become a goal for many people. Wu’s documentary references the economic status of streamers, and the fact they were able to significantly improve their income stream through the establishment of an online presence and the occurrence financial transactions between themselves, sponsorships and fans. As highlighted in the documentary, the personalities are often idolised as they come from backgrounds that are similar to their viewers, creating a sense of hope that they too can build a life like their idols. Creating a culture of hope that anyone could become rich and successful like the online streamers.
Financial transactions have enabled the live streamers to develop an income from their online presence, with money acting as the processing unit, its value may vary depending on the social context. Financial transactions are defined as the exchange of money via online platforms, without the need for cash, often seen as a set of social exchanges between two parties, this exchange establishes a non-verbal contract.
Improvements in technology means financial transactions occur faster and are now more secure, although the increasing popularity of virtual money such as crypto has led to digital heists through hacking. As shown in the documentary, in the context of live streaming, the participants send donations and purchase votes to influencers, this in turn has a ripple effect and increases awareness of the streamer and their influence.
Like anywhere, it is those with the money that have control and influence over those in a lower socioeconomic status. Streamers have a sense of sovereignty and authority over their audience, with some threatening their fans with their disappearance if their viewers have not voted for them or donate money to fuel their lavish lifestyle. As shown in the documentary, consumers often give into this pressure to show their loyalty and devotion to the streamers. Wu’s documentary also highlighted that many donate to streamers to see them do the things viewers could only dream of, as they live vicariously through these influencers. Although the streamers have the most power, the viewers also have an innate influence over their idols as well due to these financial transaction, with the threat of losing income, they can almost get them to do whatever they want as long as they donate.
Personally, I do not think streamers should be able to threaten their viewers for financial gain, and vice versa viewers should not be able to exploit streamers. For many they are not in the financial position to donate a significant amount of money on a regular basis and streamers are essentially exploiting those in a lower economic status for their own gain, and others pressure the streamers to do things that may be ethically wrong and humiliating. Financial transactions in a digital context does not interest me, the lack of security raises a flag about the privacy and reliability of online transactions. Although the improvements of technology is evidently beneficial for many, I am reluctant to put my money into something I do not 100% trust.
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