Photo illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

After an announcement posted on June 8th, China's anti-pornography office has cracked down on ASMR videos on video streaming platforms, telling services to "thoroughly clean up vulgar and pornographic ASMR content." Since then, ASMR videos have disappeared from all major Chinese streaming platforms.

ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, refers to the sounds of people whispering, tapping or stroking a microphone, or eating foods to create a sense of relaxation for their audiences. While some ASMR videos involve sexual content and dress by hosts, the community at large has often pushed back against that association. In a 2015 paper that studied ASMR media consumers in the United States and Western Europe, researchers found that 82 percent of participants reported using ASMR as a sleep aid, 70 percent used them as a way to decrease stress, and only 5 percent reported using ASMR media for sexual stimulation.

Regardless, the anti-pornography office stated in its announcement that porn is being disseminated under the guise of ASMR on many websites. It says that websites need to clean up and law enforcement agencies need to punish offenders. "A large part of ASMR audiences is young people," reads the statement. "All internet companies must genuinely fulfill their duties, and increase efforts to clean up websites, implement content review processes, and protect minors from harmful content."

Searching for the keyword "ASMR" on those services now renders no results

The office's language and guidelines remain vague on what exactly constitutes pornographic content in this context, however. In response, many streaming platforms like Youku, Bilibili, and Douyu have since taken down all ASMR content. Searching for the keyword "ASMR" on those streaming platforms rendered no results at the time of this article's publication.

The outcry from fans of ASMR was immediate. One user of the social media service Weibo responded on June 17th, "ASMR was banned???? Is it now considered sexual to eat something? How will I get to sleep now," alongside three crying emoji.

Another user said on June 8th that she was a former ASMR blogger who would read textbooks to put people to sleep. She commented on the news on Weibo, "I feel that if the sex industry was legalized in China, it'd be the most elegant solution to society's problems. But most Chinese people, with their current moral standards, would still be unable to accept it. I believe one day it'll happen, since we're already more socially open than we were thirty years ago." Others commented that there were more important aspects of the internet to police and speculated on what would be banned next by the Chinese government.