Governance and flaws in China’s online violence from tragic events

The Internet has enabled people around the world to connect instantly and has revolutionized the way we communicate and share information with each other. It helps us communicate easily and effectively share important information and news, such as political issues and epidemics. However, this technological leap forward is not without its challenges. Internet has also expanded the potential for harm. Hatred messages and online violence are spreading and amplifying in unprecedented ways on social media, significantly impacting users’ personal safety.

Cyber violence is on the rise, especially against women. A survey conducted by The Economist in 2020, involving over 4,000 women from 51 countries, revealed that 38% of women have personally experienced online harassment (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). Over the past few years, the global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in internet usage, further exacerbating the vulnerability of women to online abuse.

Increasingly serious online violence

In April 2022, due to a high number of COVID-19 cases, Shanghai was forced to implement a city lockdown. On April 3rd, a woman sought help through a food delivery platform to have Mr. Yu, a delivery driver, deliver food to her deaf father residing in another district. Due to traffic restrictions, Mr. Yu navigated a circuitous route, covering a distance of nearly 27 kilometers in almost 4 hours. To express her gratitude, she attempted to transfer money via WeChat and Alipay, but Mr. Yu declined both transactions. In the end, she recharged Mr. Yu’s mobile phone with a 200 yuan credit as a gesture of appreciation.

On April 4th, a user with a considerable number of followers posted this incident on Weibo (China’s largest social media platform) and commented, “This is a very heartwarming incident.” On the same day, the food delivery platform also shared this news and awarded a bonus to the delivery guy. 

This was supposed to be a heartwarming incident, but it turned into a tragedy a few days later. On April 6th, the woman tragically took her own life by jumping off a building due to online harassment. The reason behind this tragedy was that many people believed the additional tip given by the woman to the delivery driver was too small. Even though she contacted the user who first exposed the matter to clarify, many people still abused and humiliated her with malicious language, even spreading false rumors. The food delivery guy who helped the woman, Mr. Yu, also said in an interview that he was very anxious and sad after learning the news of his employer’s death.

This is just one example of online abuse in China. As we have seen on the Internet, whenever they occur, the media and the public express sympathy for the victims, outrage at the abusers, and initiatives that digital platforms should take more responsibility to prevent such harm (Yao, 2023). Ironically, when the police verified the woman’s death, the vicious comments were deleted by users. People try to fake an online atmosphere of “kindness” in order to blame the victim for her suicide – she was too vulnerable. Users of verbal violence against girls have been exposed, but they are exonerating themselves by arguing that they had nothing to do with the tragedy. This has given rise to a new and bizarre form of online violence.

Flew (2021) noted that the widespread spread of hate speech and other forms of online abuse on digital platforms has become an important issue of growing concern. They exacerbate hostility, discrimination, contempt, etc. in society, deny the human dignity of the target group, and cause them to live in fear and harassment. But in this case, people are debating whether “200 yuan is too little” can be considered cyberbullying (Zheyiconglin, 2022).

The definition of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is hard to define. To date, there has been no agreement on a universal definition. The way to interpret meaning literally might be to think of the words “cyber” and “bullying” entirely separately, attach ordinary, natural meanings to those words. “Cyber” can be understood as technically, in the virtual world and in the digital space. The definition of “bullying” is much more complicated. According to Langos, there are four important factors in bullying: repetition (a process of behavior rather than a single event); Power imbalance (the perpetrator demonstrates power over the target); Intention (the action must be intentional, not accidental); Aggression (behavior involving malicious behavior by the attacker) (Langos, 2012). So, Cyberbullying is defined as ‘repeated, aggressive behavior targeted at a victim through information and communication technologies.’

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the People’s Republic of China issued a draft regulation on cyber violence in 2023. This document provides a clear definition of “cyber violence-related information,” which refers to illegal and harmful information posted online targeting individuals, including insults, defamation, privacy infringements, as well as derogatory, discriminatory, or malicious speculations that severely impact the physical and mental health of the target individual. This definition transcends the binary categorization of cyber violence into “legal” or “illegal” acts. Apart from explicitly illegal actions such as insults, slander, and privacy infringements, it also incorporates harmful information that significantly impacts the physical and mental well-being of individuals into the governance framework of cyber violence. This approach places greater emphasis on the substantive effects of cyber violence on the victims.

From this perspective, “200 yuan is too little” may be identified as constituting cyber violence. Maybe the publisher is harmless, but both the original comment and the supportive remarks have already inflicted genuine harm on the victim, thus falling within the scope of cyber violence. They must apologize for their behavior.

People’s sensitivity to online speech has been increasing. We pay attention to online violence, loudly call for users to stop cyber abuse, and supervise the management measures of platforms, but what are the results? We want to know, in the face of cyberbullying on Chinese digital platforms, have companies and the government taken more action and made progress? If the answer is correct, how should we evaluate the still prevalent online violence? Can they do better?

I will take Weibo as an example to further analyze the governance measures taken by the Chinese government and platforms in addressing online violence, as well as areas where improvements may be lacking. Weibo is China’s largest social media platform, with nearly 600 million active users recorded in December 2023 alone (Zhou, 2024).

The involvement of the Cyberspace Administration of China

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is a government agency specifically responsible for the management and supervision of internet content. In November 2022, the CAC issued a notice titled “Strengthening the Governance of Online Violence.” It pointed out that platforms should implement regulatory responsibilities, improve work systems, thereby ensuring the legitimate rights and interests of netizens, and maintaining a healthy Internet environment.

In response to online violence, the CAC proposed four measures: establishing a sound mechanism for early warning and prevention of online violence, strengthening the protection of parties involved, preventing the spread and dissemination of online violence information, and strictly punishing users involved in online violence in accordance with the law.

Challenges and Improvements in Platform Management and User Reporting

On Weibo, all content posted by users must comply with the “Weibo Community Convention.” This convention specifies that users are prohibited from posting illegal information including but not limited to infringement of personal rights, spreading hatred, and malicious insults. Users can report comments, reposts, and posts they believe to be in violation of the rules. They can also block users, thus avoiding seeing the content they post. When reporting inappropriate content, users are required to select a category. The categories related to online violence are delineated very carefully and include but are not limited to “personal attacks” and “online violence.”

Actually, “nearly all platforms impose their own rules, and police their sites for offending content and behaviour” (Gillespie, 2017). However, with the increasing number of internet users and the growing prominence of social conflicts, platforms inevitably encounter more issues that may not have been previously noticed. They must accordingly refine the platform’s rules and develop their rationale for how and why interventions are conducted. While Weibo lists over a dozen categories of violations when users make complaints, the platform hides the detailed classification rules on a complex and hard-to-find page. Faced with broad categories like “misinformation” or “violations,” it’s difficult for people to make precise reports. Therefore, Weibo must also add clearer and more targeted categories to improve the efficiency of platform management.

Screening Out Violations

CAC also requires platforms to strengthen the management of comments and reposted content, intercepting or deleting remarks related to online violence, violations, and illegal content, and promptly handling accounts involved in online violence (such as blocking or banning those accounts). At the same time, platforms need to enhance the disclosure of violations and publicly announce the actions they have taken to the society. To respond to management schemes related to online abuse, Weibo has set up two dedicated official accounts for debunking rumors: Weibo Refutes Rumors and Zhuoyaoji. According to the annual work report released by the account (2024), the platform has effectively dealt with nearly 90,000 pieces of false information and debunked 1,532 newly emerged rumors while guiding contentious events. Besides that, When users submit a complaint, Weibo automatically sends them a message saying “The platform has received your report.” The platform also promptly notifies users of any progress regarding their complaint. It can be said that Weibo has been continuously striving to improve its procedures and measures in combating online violence and rumors.

However, Gillespie (2017) argues that the measures taken by platforms to delete and block content also pose challenges. Users whose content or accounts are removed sometimes harbor dissatisfaction, questioning the platform’s subjectivity, hypocrisy, and bias. For large platforms, content moderation cannot be uniform; especially for seemingly innocuous expressions of user opinions like “200 yuan is too little,” which may not carry malicious intent. Users may perceive the deleted content as innocuous and can easily find what they consider more objectionable yet still accessible content on the platform—leaving them to question whether the platform is simply using community protection as a guise to delete any content it pleases.

I think that when Weibo discloses information to the public, they can choose different cases to showcase the distinctions between them, thereby enhancing persuasiveness.

Protecting victims of online violence

The platform can also enhance protection for victims of online abuse through specific features, minimizing their exposure to infringing content. In 2022, Weibo introduced the “One-Click Protection” feature, allowing users to activate this button when encountering risks of online violence. Through this feature, users can avoid receiving comments, reposts, and messages from strangers for 7 days. In my opinion, Weibo can learn from Instagram. Instagram has a more robust feature called “Private Account,” where only followers whose requests are approved by the user can view the content of the private account.


Overall, in the current internet landscape in China, online violence continues to persist. There is a pressing need for more effective governance of online abuse to prevent tragedies like the one involving the Shanghai girl from occurring. Based on the case study of Weibo, this article explores how the Chinese government and social media platforms take specific measures to govern online violence. However, faced with a series of new and emergent instances of online abuse, both the government and platforms need to adopt further refined measures.


The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2020). Measuring the prevalence of online violence against women. 

Wu, C. (2022, May 18). Weibo’s doctrine of the mean. #SixthTone.

Yao, Y. (2023, February 21). Death of pink-haired woman underlines threat from cyberbullying. Opinion –

Flew, T. (2021). Regulating platforms . Polity.

Zheyiconglin. (2022, April 6). “200 yuan network violence killed little girl” that matter, I have a question, let’s friendly discussion [Post]. Weibo.

Langos, C. (2012). Cyberbullying: The challenge to define. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 15(6), 285-289.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the People’s Republic of China. (2023, June 9). Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security Guiding Opinions on Punishing Crimes of Internet Violence according to Law (Draft for Comment) Open to the public for comments.

Zhou, X. (2024, March 15). In the fourth quarter of 2023, Weibo reported a revenue of 3.3 billion yuan, with a monthly active user count reaching 598 million. TechWeb. 

Secretariat of the Cyberspace Administration of China. (2022, November 4). Notice on effectively strengthening the governance of online abuse.

Gillespie, T. (2017). Governance of and by platforms. SAGE handbook of social media, 254-278.

Weibo Refutes Rumors. (2024, January 17). “2023 Weibo Rumor Debunking Report” [Post]. Weibo.

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