iQiyi, one of China’s biggest video streaming sites, won’t show you how many people have watched a video -- so they can try to stop click farming.

“Many people in the industry see viewership numbers as the target,” iQiyi said in a statement, “And they either deviate from their original motives, or hype vulgar content to attract eyeballs. It even generates illegal behavior such as click farming.”

The company says click farming has created an unfair competition environment for producers, users and advertisers.

View counts that used to be displayed at the bottom left corner is now replaced by its new Heat index. (Picture: iQiyi)

So how will you know whether a video is popular? iQiyi’s solution is to replace view counts with a “Heat” index. It will be based on viewing behavior, sharing and other interaction --  as well as the “reputation, social influence and value orientation” of the videos.

What does that mean? It could point to the source for these changes. In iQiyi’s statement, it mentioned a government notice from June -- which said that video sites should not engage in unfair competition.

Content sites in China are often subject to crackdowns by the government, which holds them responsible for the content on their site -- whether it’s videos of women whispering into microphones, “vulgar content” on the country’s biggest anime site, or clickbait headlines.

Click farming, where you pay for someone to generate lots of clicks on stories or videos to make their view counts look much higher than they actually are, is rampant in China. It was estimated that fake web traffic accounts for one third of all online ad views, effectively wasting advertiser money.

In 2017, each of the country’s top 10 TV shows drew more than 10 billion views online, making people joke that it’s more than the entire population on Earth. To be fair, the view counts on these sites are all total views instead of unique views, according to Tencent Video executives, but it’s still more than normal -- Despacito, the most watched YouTube video ever, has only 5.4 billion views to date.

Last week, the company sued a click farm company who pocketed more than 1 million yuan (US$147,251) by generating 950 million clicks on the site. A Beijing court ruled in favor of iQiyi and fined the click farm 500,000 yuan (US$73,625), China’s first unfair competition case against click farmers.

But some also doubt that simply hiding the numbers from public will be effective. Critics argue that other standards are even less transparent, and video sites should invest more in removing fake clicks.

But an iQiyi executive also said that the company could bring view counts back, if traffic data can one day “truly and fairly” reflect the value of the content.