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Music streaming app NetEase walks a fine line as it cracks down on ‘emotional’ listeners during a pandemic

The phenomenon sparked a new meme dubbed NetEmo, which took off after some users poked fun at depressed people.

Photo: tuchong.stock.com

The pandemic getting you down? China’s leading music streaming app NetEase offers music for all moods, but some listeners are apparently letting their emotions go a bit too far – prompting the platform to step in.

NetEase said it will take measures to regulate comments posted on its platform after receiving criticism that the app had become too “depressing.”

Under Adele’s hit Someone Like You—a song about coming to terms with a broken relationship—one listener commented: “Adele lost her weight but I lost my happiness.”

Another listener, posting under a song called Melancholy by artist White Cherry, wrote: “When we broke up, she took all my n95 masks,” generating more than 2,000 likes.

“2020 had a difficult start and people’s sorrow and anxiety in life need an outlet. NetEase Cloud Music, as a music community that connects people, has become everyone’s tree hole for their emotions,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

“It’s midnight, NetEmo mode activated,” read one meme. Image via South China Morning Post.

“However, there are also a small number of people who have left fabricated and malicious content on the platform, which brought confusion to most users,” the company said.

“I’m only 12 years old, but have been diagnosed with depression for 20 years” and “My mom died a year before I was born, I’m sorry for being alive,” were two such comments that went viral across the platform.

The phenomenon sparked a new meme dubbed “NetEmo,” which took off after some users poked fun at depressed people. “It’s midnight, NetEmo mode activated,” read one meme featuring a clock and tears streaming down a face.

In response, the music service provider said it will partner with professional mental research institutions to “strengthen mainstream values” and “create a positive and friendly atmosphere.” NetEase also said it would hire more content moderators and recruit therapists to provide free online consultations to users.

Public opinion has been mixed over the “NetEmo” trend, with some users criticizing the behavior of the posters, while others wondering if NetEase was taking it too seriously.

“People might laugh seeing those [NetEmo] comments, but it’s actually hurting those with real mental issues. Please don’t make fun of depressed patients,” said one of the most upvoted comments under a Weibo post discussing the matter.

But another Weibo comment under the same post said: “It’s so strange that Chinese society only allows positive things to exist. Anything negative would be considered abnormal.”

In its statement on Monday, NetEase did acknowledge that the NetEmo trend, although only accounting for a small percentage of overall comments on the platform, did reflect “some of the current mood of the public this year.”

With more than 800 million registered users and 30 million tracks, NetEase Cloud Music, launched by internet company and game giant NetEase in 2013, offers an intimate user experience through personalized recommendations and an interactive online community.

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Unlike Spotify and more like YouTube, users can leave comments below different songs and receive likes and replies from other listeners. The feature gained NetEase a huge following among China’s Gen Z, becoming a place for them to share feelings and stories.

The app launched a “music to heal” program in 2018 where users whose searches suggest a pessimistic or depressed mood are directed to songs that could help ease their stress.

This article was originally published in the South China Morning Post