Deep-rooted Hate: Geographical Discrimination and Hate Speech on the Chinese Internet


    The present time of rapid development and popularity of Internet technology can be called the Internet era. In this era, people’s lives have become richer and more convenient because of the introduction of new Internet technologies. Because of the emergence of social media platforms, people are given more opportunities and ways to communicate with others and express themselves. The advantages of this approach are diverse: it has low barriers, with a little financial or physical cost for people to use and join the platforms; it is simple to use, with people only needing a cell phone or computer to communicate their message to anyone in the world; and it is powerful, with a large number of platforms that allow people to use a variety of formats to It is also very powerful, with a large number of platforms that allow people to express their messages in a variety of formats and spread them to like-minded people at a very fast pace. Because of these advantages of online social media, in the current era, these platforms have gained enough social influence due to a large number of users, and have further attracted more new users to join the platforms, and the frequency of communication between people through the platforms is increasing rapidly. In this context, problems have emerged in these growing social media platforms. Because of the anonymity of users and the convenience of speaking on the platforms, users actively or passively recognize that speaking on the Internet is “free” and that there are fewer constraints than in real life, making users on social media more willing to express themselves while also making bad comments. We don’t know who we are talking to, and the other person doesn’t know who we are, so hate speech seems to be a very low-cost behaviour as opposed to the real world. The prevalence of inappropriate speech, such as hate speech and discrimination, on various social media platforms, has become an important issue that must be addressed. Due to the powerful influence of social media in the Internet age, hate speech, although a simple line of text, can have serious consequences when spread through the platform, and people can suffer mental or physical harm and society can suffer shocks as a result. Due to the powerful influence of social media in the Internet age, hate speech, although a simple line of text, can have serious consequences when spread through the platform, and people can suffer mental or physical harm and society can suffer shocks as a result. How to effectively moderate the amount of harmful speech and reduce the negative impact of hate speech is a pressing issue for social media today, and finding an effective solution to the problem is a challenge that platforms need to face.

What is hate speech?

    Before we talk about this important issue that exists on the Internet platform, we may need to think about whether we know what the issue really is. The concept of hate speech may not be limited to its literal meaning; the concept may cover more elements. Hate speech is: “expresses, encourages, stirs up, or incites hatred against a group of individuals distinguished by a particular feature or set of features such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationalist, or sexual orientation.” (Parekh, 2012) Such speech is usually directed at individuals or groups that have certain characteristics and are easily identifiable, and directly or indirectly assigns one-sided inappropriate qualities to the group as a whole, thus stigmatizing it and further spreading hostility toward the individual or group. Hate speech does not stop at briefly hurting someone’s feelings or taking a single offence against an individual; it can be immediately and chronically harmful. The important point is that hate speech itself does not need to be violent or emotional in nature; that is, in many cases, people unconsciously express hate speech against an individual or group of people without the subjective intention of expressing “hate” and causing harm. Various social media outlets have also defined hate speech in their platforms; Facebook defines hate speech as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics-race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.” (Facebook Community Standards, n.d.) Twitter describes it as “violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” (Twitter Help Center, 2019) In general, various platforms or institutions have similar summaries of hate speech, all include protections for special minority populations in the face of hate speech, and claim that hate speech is not an acceptable and serious issue on the platform. 

The harm that can come from hate speech:

    As people rely more and more on the convenience brought by social media platforms, the harm caused by various hate speeches on the platforms may be greater than most people think. The spread of hate speech in social media has a real-world social impact and in some cases can have a direct link to real-life crimes, online hate speech can make criminals more aggressive and become an accomplice to the actual crime. In 2019, 49 people were shot and killed in two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand in a serious hate crime and the terrorist attack on the Jewish community; the attackers had posted a series of hate speeches on social media and uploaded a 17-minute video of the shooting to Facebook during the terrorist attack. (The New York Times, 2019) In this case, the presence of social media extended the reach of a hate crime even further, spreading the hate to more areas of society and elevating the case beyond the level of shooting to a serious racial issue in society. The negative impact caused huge problems for Facebook, which had to remove the hate speech posted by criminals on the platform as soon as possible, and Facebook was also blamed for the unfavourable control of hate speech. (The New York Times, 2019)

    The impact of online hate speech does not only help extreme hate crimes but also has a long-term, subtle negative impact on people’s daily lives. Not mentioned above, geographic discrimination against a geographic area is also very common in Internet social media platforms, and the negative impact of such geographically targeted hate speech on people does not only stop at the mental and emotional stage. Past studies have shown that non-Spanish job seekers are 42 percent less likely to get a job than Spanish job seekers on Nubelo, Spain’s leading online job search platform, due to the presence of significant geographic discrimination. (Galperin & Greppi, 2017) Past studies of young Polish online shoppers have also shown that geographic discrimination is also prevalent on online shopping platforms, with consumers being denied sales, refused returns, and forced to pay higher prices and incomplete services because of their nationality or place of residence. (Macik, 2017) Both of these cases clearly show the direct negative impact of region-specific discrimination on people’s real life. And, both studies have shown that region-specific hate speech in social media is one of the main reasons contributing to the exacerbation of this explicit geographic discrimination. 

    The case study in the follow-up content also focuses precisely on actual cases where geographically discriminatory hate speech targeting specific geographic areas has had a negative impact on social media platforms on the Internet.

Case analyses:

    Because of its long history and vast territory, China’s cultural habits vary greatly from region to region. The phenomenon of geographic discrimination in China has been going on for a very long time, going back thousands of years, geographical discrimination can be called a bad habit that was hidden in the Chinese culture. With the 21st century, China has entered the Internet era, and while the development of Internet technology has brought convenience to people’s communication, the bad parts hidden behind traditional culture have also gained room for development. In the Chinese Internet world, geographical discrimination against different regions accounts for a large portion of hate speech on social media platforms. (The early days of the Chinese Internet were not sensitive to issues related to gender, religion and ethnicity) On May 15, 2018, a regional discrimination video against Henan Province appeared on the Douyin platform, and the video made an indiscriminate attack on the situation living in Henan, which was widely disseminated in a short period of time; on May 26, the author of the video, Ran, was controlled by the local public security authorities and fined 500 yuan. (“Douyin” on the recorded video abusing other netizens Ran was dealt with by the police according to law, 2018) Geographically specific hate speech is a common occurrence on the Chinese Internet. Back in the early 21st century, during the Web 1.0 era, discriminatory content targeting different regions of China could be found on various websites. But in the late 2110s, when new-age social media platforms such as Douyin emerged, the ability of Internet social media to spread has far surpassed the forum sites of the past, making this incident spread much faster and more influential compared to past hate speech. The incidents of hate speech were not limited to attacks on residents living in Henan Province, but more hate speech began to emerge, including more offensive videos, meme images and comments, in order to attack the video’s author and the area where the video’s author lives. (Henan Report, 2018) This incident is no longer just a single regional hate speech but has escalated to a large number of hate speech attacks between different regions, causing a huge and bad social impact, which is why the local public security authorities have intervened in this incident on the Internet. This incident is the first time that China has formally discussed geographically discriminatory hate speech on the Internet as a serious social issue, and the first time that a government department has stepped in to address such Internet speech issues.

What do we need to do?

    After the public security authorities intervened in this incident, the Douyin platform was also interviewed by relevant government departments and asked to reduce harmful content in the platform and control its distribution; the platform also responded positively to the requests of the relevant departments by increasing its efforts to clean up the videos on the site and launch more positive content. (Henan Report, 2018) As a result, the negative impact of hate speech was effectively controlled within a short period of time due to the intervention of government agencies, and the platform has also strengthened its control over hate speech because of this incident. But is such an approach really an effective way to address geographically discriminatory hate speech on Internet platforms? 

    Geographical discrimination has a long history in China as cultural dross, as well as being buried deep in the underlying logic of many Chinese people who believe from the bottom of their hearts that people from a certain region are bad, so when these people post hate speech in social media, they themselves may not even recognize it as a good speech, and the speech will not carry offensive or emotional words. This is a challenge for moderation in the platform because most of the mechanisms for detecting inappropriate speech in social media are through machine searches for specific words. When hate speech does not contain any keywords that can trigger the mechanism, then these active monitoring mechanisms cannot detect the hate speech and remove it in time, which gives room for the proliferation of hate speech to cause bad influence. Relying on government departments is also not a good choice, because the relevant departments do not have enough energy to check every social platform, and when government departments intervene in related incidents, it is not a good thing for social platforms, because the platform side may also face certain penalties. 

    All in all, geographic discrimination, as a bad habit rooted in Chinese culture, is almost impossible to eliminate completely from social media platforms. Moderation by platforms can only reduce the amount and impact of hate speech that users can see, but the “hate” that exists in people’s minds is difficult to eliminate through moderation by platforms. Simply reducing or eliminating hate speech is not the answer. To stop geographic discrimination, we must change people’s underlying logic as much as possible and get them to give up the bad habits they once had. As a short video platform like Douyin, a relatively effective approach would be to add more positive video content about different regions of China while strengthening the moderation of hate speech, in order to reduce the information gap and friction between users from different regions of China, and to break the stereotypes that have been formed for a long time. More importantly, it is the users themselves who can realize that geographical discrimination is a bad habit and that hate speech can cause serious harm is the key to the problem. It is only when people’s own perceptions begin to change and they begin to understand others that deep-rooted hatred will be dissolved.


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Galperin, H., & Greppi, C. (2017). Geographical Discrimination in Digital Labor Platforms. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Henan Report. (2018, May 16). 抖音短视频惊现地域黑 网友:地域歧视何时停止Douyin short  video shocking regional black Netizens: regional discrimination when to stop.

Mącik Radosław. (2017). Geo-discrimination in Online Shopping. The Consumer’s Perspective. Handel Wewne̜trzny (Warszawa)371, 214–.

Parekh, B. (2012). Is there a case for banning hate speech? In M. Herz and P. Molnar (eds), The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses (pp. 37-56). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The New York Times. (2019, March 15). Christchurch Shooting Live Updates: 49 Are Dead After 2 Mosques Are Hit. The New York Times.  

Twitter Help Center. (2019, March 5). Hateful conduct policy.; Twitter Help Center.

“抖音”上录视频辱骂他人 网民冉某被警方依法处理. (2018). “Douyin” on the recorded video abusing other netizens Ran was dealt with by the police according to law M. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from

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