Death by brain haemorrhage of 25-year-old Bilibili content moderator sparks outrage in China

The death by brain haemorrhage of a 25-year-old content moderator who had worked for short-video streaming site Bilibili during a week-long public holiday sparked outrage on China’s internet this week.

In a statement sent late Tuesday, Bilibili confirmed the employee’s death and apologized to his family.

“Not only has the death of this outstanding worker been an enormous loss to the firm, but it has also acted as a wake-up call to us,” Bilibili said, using just the man’s online handle to identify him.

“To prevent similar tragedies from occurring again, we should make active improvements in checking on the physical health of personnel,” the statement continued.

The incident follows a spate of sudden deaths of young tech employees in recent years, which have sparked debate over the industry’s notorious “996” culture of working 12 hours per day, six days a week – previously endorsed by entrepreneurs including Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

The hashtag “Bilibili worker suddenly died after working overtime during Lunar New Year” went viral on the Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday when a workplace blogger reported the man’s death, citing anonymous colleagues claiming that he was forced to work overtime.

The same day, a Weibo user claiming to be the man’s sister wrote a long post thanking the blogger and alleging that Bilibili tried to suppress news of his death internally.

“Is it that hard to give a sincere apology? Does my brother’s twenty-something-year-old life not count?” she wrote, in a post that gained over 870,000 likes.

Some Weibo users claiming to be Bilibili employees accused the firm of forcing content moderators to work 12-hour shifts without breaks during the Spring Festival holiday.

The firm said the employee died of a brain haemorrhage Friday evening, having sought medical treatment after he did not show up to work that afternoon.

However, Bilibili denied overtime allegations, saying the employee “was assigned to work eight hours per day with two days off after five days of work, as part of the Spring Festival shift rota”.

Several Chinese tech firms have pledged to cut working hours after complaints and activism among employees, including a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of different firms’ working hours compiled last year which mysteriously got deleted.

Since last year, Beijing authorities have pushed to improve labour conditions for gig economy workers serving giant tech platforms, as part of a regulatory crackdown on the industry.