Image: Christian Ohde/picture alliance
With the development of computer technology and the Internet and the prosperity of virtual network communities, group communication has reached a particular scale in modern science and technology society. The development of network platforms enables people to have a specific right to free speech. In the online community platform of China, users express their opinions and share their daily lives, which develops different community cultures. (Lesser et al., 2000) However, a recent study has proved that extremely misogynistic comments have happened to Chinese online community platforms. Those hate speeches are harming not only females but also males. It is indiscriminately attacking all genders. Not surprisingly, these platforms have not met users’ expectations regarding regulating hate speech, which has resulted in “hatred” becoming increasingly closer to users’ lives.
You have been being spied on by other platforms-Hate speech about gender
Over the past few years, social media, which are interactive online applications enabling creating and sharing of user-generated content and forming personal, social networks, has become an increasingly popular and highly successful phenomenon. (Vollenbroek et al., 2014) In China, Search engines, Weibo, and social media are three significant types of modern-day social media. (Fuchs, 2021) China has the largest number of internet users in the world, with over 513 million individuals, which is more than twice the number of users in the United States. It also has the most dynamic social media environment globally, with more than 300 million people utilising various platforms such as blogs, social media sites, Weibo, and other online communities such as Tieba. Furthermore, more than 40% of the time Chinese internet users spend online is on social media, and this percentage is continually rising. (Chiu et al., 2012) However, due to the incomplete audit procedures of the platforms, the amount of hate speech that exists simultaneously on Chinese social networks is also on the rise, with many users receiving unjustified hate speech from different platforms when using social networks. This makes online communities precarious and causes anxiety among the user public. The use of hate speech promotes feelings of fear, prejudice, contempt, and discrimination. (Flew, 2021, pp. 92) It is widely accepted that hate speech is used to convey and stimulate feelings of animosity towards groups identified by certain traits or characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, and sexual orientation. (Flew, 2021, pp. 91)
It is worth mentioning that Flew believes that hate speech does not incite public violence, but it does violate human rights principles. There is less hate speech about race on Chinese social media platforms but more on gender and sexual orientation aspects. Females who post their photos on the women-friendly platform may be reposted on another platform with many male users. Then, females’ photos are often criticized by unfamiliar men without reason and even make some sexual harassment remarks or rumors about women’s sexual experiences. Although, in most cases, the women who are being targeted by these hate speech comments are not aware of them, this did create a negative social trend.
Unregulated censorship platforms have made social media a paradise for online trolls to express hate speech
Societies, where individuals are able to express themselves without restrictions are superior to societies where such freedom is limited. (Sinpeng et al., 2021) social media is such a network society that users have the freedom to speak under regulation. Still, there has been much discussion about social media as an infrastructure that can be used to expand the reach of hate networks and amplify hate speech.
SunXiaochuan community is a topic community based on Baidu Tieba. A Baidu user survey found that many of the SunXiaochuan community comprises netizens who want to vent their emotions. (Wang, 2008) Earlier, Chinese internet celebrity Sun Xiaochuan used to broadcast live on a streaming platform, mainly involving arguing with netizens and criticising fans. This abstract live broadcast behaviour attracted thousands of netizens to participate. Afterwards, some fans created the SunXiaochuan Community on Baidu Tieba. More and more netizens entered the SunXiaochuan community, making it a gathering place for netizens who want to escape the internet censorship system. Initially, this community was discussing chaotic relationships between men and women. Still, as more and more people entered the community, the SunXiaochuan community gradually entered a major misconception in its evaluation of women: not only did they comment on females in the news, but there were also cases of exposing the privacy of females around them. And in recent years, the public has seen a lot of insulting comments towards females in this online community. Many netizens posted screenshots of their chat records with women or photos of women who not meeting social aesthetic standards on the Tieba, and some users in this community would indiscriminately attack these women.
Image: SunXiaochuan community User Speech
Previous proposals for Internet governance
In 2017, China’s National Internet Information Office announced that three social media platforms, namely Tencent WeChat, Sina Weibo, and Baidu Tieba, were investigated for spreading information that poses a threat to national security, public safety, and social order. This information includes violent and terrifying content, false rumours, and obscene pornography. According to a statement from China’s National Internet Information Office, these three website platforms are suspected of violating laws and regulations such as the Cybersecurity Law and failing to fulfil their management obligations for information prohibited by laws and regulations that were published by their users on their platforms. (Kan, 2017)
After receiving a notice from the National Internet Information Office, Tieba issued a statement emphasizing that Tieba belongs to the public space of the internet and that creating a green, healthy, and legal online environment cannot do without the support of every user. (New evening newspaper, n.d.) Tieba once again emphasizes that it will continue to crack down on the behaviour of bad information. At the same time, Tieba actively welcomes users to report and supervise illegal and irregular information.
But until now, when users open the Baidu Tieba SunXiaochuan community, we still find that the comments in the Tieba are unsightly, and the behaviour of abusing women at will and imagining them as a lower-class group has flooded the entire community. Hate speech regards certain individuals or groups as being of lower value and justifies treating them unfairly, which results in their rights being denied. The use of hate speech accomplishes this by imposing restrictions on what the targeted group is allowed to express, making it harder for them to respond with their own rebuttal. (Sinpeng et al., 2021)
The inadequate regulation of platforms has made hate speech increasingly common on these platforms. Becoming the target of online hate speech poses a serious threat to people’s mental health. Psychological literature tells us that online hate can worsen people’s mental health, especially for young people and marginalized groups. (Stechemesser et al., 2020)
So, the platform undoubtedly needs to be responsible for these hate remarks and the impact they have caused.
Why should the social media industry do to resist hate speech
As previously noted, the Baidu Tieba case results from the platform’s inadequate system for reviewing content, resulting in the widespread presence of gender-based conflicts within this online community. Numerous popular websites have an enormous and ever-increasing amount of user-generated content. However, the task of sorting and classifying this content into acceptable and unacceptable categories is far too complex to be accomplished solely by software or algorithms, especially given the sheer scale of the task. This is not just a technical or computational problem but also a longstanding theoretical challenge in information sorting and classification (Roberts, 2019)
Image: Getty Images
The term “hate speech” has various meanings. Still, it should specifically refer to a kind of harmful speech that warrants regulation rather than simply offensive or insulting speech that does not require regulation. (Roberts, 2019)Therefore, regulating hate speech must have a legal intervention, as the harm it brings may lead to psychological illness or even suicide of victims.
In fact, as early as 2014, a series of anti-feminist actions and harassment on social media platforms highlighted the ongoing problems faced by women in the online space. In online communities that cater to geek culture, such as Reddit, interactions are influenced by race and gender, and tend to revolve around a white male perspective. (Milner, 2013). This is also common on social networks in China. The internet has emerged as a new platform for disseminating hate speech, given its ability to reach millions of people through low-cost and unrestricted social networks that bring together previously fragmented and diverse groups, creating a sense of shared identity and community awareness. Over time, The increase of online hate speech, harassment, bullying, and discrimination reflects the growth of hate groups online (Banks, 2010). This hatred towards women can evolve into anti-social collectives. As such, this behavior should be subject to regulation.
Challenges to be faced in governance
The concept of Web 2.0 has been described as a platform that allows for the free expression of various types of speech, including both positive and negative, truthful and false, as well as discussions and arguments. One of the challenges that arise from this platform is the need to address and regulate hate speech on the internet effectively. The topic of hate speech has been a subject of ongoing debate in international human rights law. The controversy arises because, on the one hand, freedom of speech is protected. On the other hand, prohibiting hate speech is based on various normative principles that require careful consideration and adjustment. (O’Regan, 2018)
Regulating hate speech on the internet is not a task that can be accomplished through a single entity or government. Instead, it requires the involvement of multiple organizations and regulatory bodies. Additionally, having access to technical resources is also crucial in effectively managing and combating hate speech online. (Banks, 2010) The challenges of regulating online hate speech became apparent in the case of Yahoo’s website, where the sale of Nazi-related goods was an issue. This case highlighted the difficulties of regulating online speech across different regions, due to variations in cultural and political perspectives. While individual countries may be able to prosecute hate crimes that occur within their borders, they are limited in their ability to enforce their laws beyond their territorial jurisdiction. This is due, in part, to the fact that different nations have varying legal frameworks for addressing hate speech.
Due to the challenges posed by the anonymity and multi-jurisdictional nature of the internet, regulating hate speech online is a difficult task for individual countries. Hate speech perpetrators can exploit the fragmented and inconsistent enforcement of national laws. In response to these challenges, the European Commission has developed an agreement designed to coordinate efforts to combat computer-related crimes and establish common minimum standards for addressing these crimes, with the goal of creating a unified approach to regulating hate speech online. (Kaplan et al., 2003)
Based on the case of SunXiaochuan community’s hatred of women mentioned earlier and the harm of hate speech to the entire society mentioned later, we propose that hate speech should be regulated, and list some governance challenges. But in it, we also noticed the difficulty of distinguishing between the principle of freedom of speech and hate speech，The principle of freedom of speech is a fundamental doctrine that may sometimes protect speech, even if it causes harm. However, in order to distinguish between protected speech and hate speech, it is necessary to consider two main strategies. The first strategy involves arguing that allowing speech to promote certain values or benefits brings overall benefits that outweigh any harm caused. (Yong, 2011) It is important to note, however, that hate speech does not fall into this category. The second strategy involves recognizing that certain restrictions on speech are necessary in order to protect the rights of speakers, listeners, and bystanders from infringement.
In today’s world of diverse cultural, linguistic, and religious development, with varying political landscapes, each case should follow the local culture for speech review. How to understand the spread of hate speech in the region and formulate better policies to address this issue is the main regulatory issue today.
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