The rise of the digital age stems from the emergence of scientific and technological products such as computers and the development of the Internet. In the daily life of ordinary people, traditional media forms, such as newspapers and radio stations, are gradually phased out, and new media forms replace traditional media forms, which have become the fruits of the development of the digital age. In China, new media is usually referred to as the form of media represented by various applications applied on mobile phones. New media is a form of media based on digitalization and networking, which adopts a variety of digital technological means to create and disseminate information, including but not limited to WeChat public account, microblog, short video, live broadcast, etc (Jiaqi Fan & Yang Zhou, 2019). Online hate speech is on the rise because of the development of the Internet and new media. Hate speech refers to a type of speech that attacks ethnic, religious, regional, gender and other identity characteristics based on hate intention, causing discrimination and hatred between different groups (Qian Cheng, 2021). However, due to the anonymity of people’s identities, the interaction of information, the rapidity of communication and the universality of communication on new media, the spread speed and harm range of online hate speech have greatly increased.
In China, online hate speech can be divided into four basic types: ethnic hate speech, religious hate speech, regional hate speech and gender hate speech (Qian Cheng, 2021).
In April 2016, a male student at Nanjing University published an article titled “Female college students, you should marry well” on his WeChat moments. In the article, the male student claimed that women should only be housewives and should not pursue careers. He believes that women’s main responsibility is to take care of the family and children, and if women pursue career too much, it will lead to the imbalance of the family and the alienation of the children. The hate speech can be classified as gender hate speech. The transmission process in the network is similar to the interactive infection mechanism of virus transmission, which can rapidly enhance the infectivity and spread range of information (Liu, J., & Cai, S., 2013). The expression of opposing emotions and hatred among various subjects will infect each other due to similarity, forming a strong discourse cohesion. In fact, the existence of WeChat moments is relatively private, and there are no more opportunities to be watched on ordinary media platforms such as YouTube. However, in the ancient history of China, women have been attached to men for a long time without independent personal identity and social status (Qian Cheng, 2021). After the establishment of New China, the Chinese government advocates gender equality, which leads to the relative improvement of women’s status. Meanwhile, it is also due to the popularization of education by the Chinese government. More and more women are aware of the concept of gender equality. However, after the article was published in Moments, it was forwarded to a social media account by the student’s WeChat contacts, and was also complained to Nanjing University, which was seen by more people and triggered heated discussion. Due to the excessive heat, many people called on Nanjing University to severely investigate the student. Nanjing University issued a statement after the investigation, saying it firmly upholds the basic principle of gender equality and opposes any form of gender discrimination and insult, and decided to expel the student.
Some studies have concluded that people will feel anger, fear, helplessness and inferiority after being subjected to online sexism and attacks, which may lead to psychological disorders and suicidal tendencies in severe cases (Yufen Zhao, 2016). People who suffer online gender-based violence on social media and other online platforms feel that their identity and value are denied, resulting in feelings of shame and fear. Victims’ online humiliation can affect their emotional state and behaviour in real life, and even have a lasting negative impact on their lives. Online gender-based violence not only affects the victims themselves, but also affects the whole society. The existence of such behaviour will not only exacerbate gender discrimination and inequality, but also affect social justice and harmonious development (Xu & You, 2018).
Why does this happen?
Chinese meaning expression is determined by the context, the meaning of a word can have different meanings in different contexts. While the current phenomenon of online hate speech in China is mostly composed of homophones, subtexts, and even, as in the above case, no insulting words. However, due to the limitations of the program’s algorithm, it is difficult to identify as hate speech.
From the legal aspect, the legal responsibilities of Chinese Internet service providers are relatively heavy, and they need to bear strict fault liability and unreasonable allocation of rights and obligations. Internet service providers not only need to pay huge economic and human costs to fulfill the censorship responsibility, but also need the support of artificial intelligence technology to identify online hate speech. At the same time, the current legal norms that focus on the regulation of Internet hate speech do not have clear and detailed provisions on the important parts of the definition of the concepts involved in Internet hate speech, some administrative regulations do not provide clear punishment measures, and the legislative level is low, and a complete normative system has not been formed (Qian Cheng, 2021).
According to the 47th China Statistical Report on Internet Development released by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) in February 2021, the number of internet users in China reached 989 million by the end of 2020. The report also noted that 80.2 percent of China’s Internet users have a college degree or less. Due to the large number and uneven quality of Chinese netizens, the possibility of online hate speech will increase. At the same time, from the perspective of social psychological mechanism of online hate speech, the occurrence of online hate speech is related to three aspects: anonymity and social identification, information overload and stereotype, group effect and social cognition (Li & Shao, 2018). The speed and scope of information dissemination on new media platforms is much higher than that of traditional media, and the spread of online hate speech on these platforms is often relatively hidden and not easy to be regulated.
How to solve?
From the legal perspective, there is no specific legal regulation on the regulation of hate speech on the Internet, and there is no industry consensus on the regulation of hate speech (Qian Cheng, 2021). They can only try to strike a balance between avoiding risks, calculating costs and benefits, reaffirming corporate values and responsibility, identifying and judging the nature of speech, and guiding users to self-discipline (Qing Bian & Di Chen, 2021). Therefore, it is necessary for China to establish special laws and regulations on hate speech. However, as mentioned earlier, the Chinese government could refer to the EU’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online as part of its countering illegal hate speech online legislation. The guidelines encourage online information giants to work with civil society organizations to establish rules for platforms, community conventions, and notification processes.
From the perspective of social media platforms, although new media gives citizens greater freedom of speech than before, the development of science and technology makes the protection of equal rights lag (Wu & Liang, 2020). Since the concealment and complexity of the network itself is one of the reasons leading to the prevalence of hate speech, it seems to be one of the ways to solve the problem of hate speech by publicizing the identity of network users and revealing the internal rules of network operation. South Korea passed the Internet Real-Name System Act in 2004 and expanded it through Enforcement regulations, requiring citizens to verify their identities when visiting websites with more than 100,000 visitors a day. While leaving and viewing messages must be authenticated first (Global Freedom of Expression Columbia, 2019). The implementation of real-name system can make Internet users’ speech more responsible and capricious and prevent some people from making irresponsible speech on the Internet. At the same time, the implementation of the real-name system can strengthen the supervision of the government and relevant institutions on online speech, to more effectively monitor and delete hate speech and other illegal speech (Weihui Sun, 2017).
According to the survey, only 29.7 percent of respondents were aware of hate speech laws. The survey also found that opposition to hate speech was higher among highly educated and high-income groups, while geographically, opposition to hate speech was relatively low in the West (Chinese Judicial Science Press, 2019). The existence and normative role of law can guide people to self-restrict their speech behaviours and avoid overheated words that hurt others. However, the specific effect depends on people’s cognition and compliance with the law and needs to consider the influence of social and cultural background, education level, values and other factors. Thus, the Chinese government needs to strengthen people’s understanding of laws related to hate speech and improve the quality of the people.
Online hate speech is a rapidly growing problem for several reasons, especially in China. The conclusion of this paper is that the linguistic complexity and historical reasons of Chinese are unavoidable. At the same time, public awareness of hate speech laws is inadequate. And hate speech laws are inadequate. The characteristics of new media also lead to the huge influence of online hate speech in China. Other countries’ solutions to online hate speech in terms of laws and regulations can provide a reference for China. However, there is still a need to strengthen public awareness and opposition to online hate speech to protect society and individuals from hate speech.
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