Say No To Online Abuse. How Chinese Social Media Platform And Government End Cyberbullying

The concern of online abuse

The seriousness of online abuse

In June 2023, a mother, Yang, in Wuhan, jumped off the building two weeks after his son was fatally struck by a vehicle driven by one of his school’s teachers. However, the news of her son’s death wasn’t the sole reason behind her desperate act. The actual cause of her demise was relentless cyberbullying, compounded by the unimaginable grief of losing her child. The mother became the target of the online abuse only because she dressed up nicely, wore makeup, presented herself logically during media interviews, and dared to speak out against the school’s misconduct following her son’s death (Ye, 2023).

Figure 1: The mother narrated more details about the incident to the journalist (Kandu News, 2023)

Her appearance, makeup, and composed and logical demeanor during the interviews became grounds for the online attack against her. Countless hurtful comments and criticisms were directed at her, with some accusing her of “dressing up and staging a show” (Zhao, 2023) and “being so calm that don’t like a born mother” (Weibo comments, 2023). The relentless cyberbullying pushed the grieving mother to take her own life by jumping from the 24th floor and shattered a once-happy family. After the mother’s passing, this incident sparked a fervent discussion about cyberbullying on Chinese social media platforms. Some users on Sina Weibo believed that the relentless online abuse killed the mother, and they called for punishment for these online trolls. Authorities intervened to investigate the cause of the mother’s death and the cyberbullying she endured. Chinese platforms such as Sina and Tencent banned several accounts that had posted malicious comments. Tencent, in particular, announced that it had permanently suspended 37 accounts involved in the incident, demonstrating its firm stance against online abuse and personal attacks. Moreover, Tencent pledged to intensify efforts to crack down on inappropriate comments (Zhao, 2023).

This miserable online abuse is not an exception. In fact, it happens almost every day on Chinese social media platforms. However, it’s often only after tragic consequences occur that these incidents garner public attention and raise awareness. According to the Chinese Social Research Center (2023), 65.3% of interviewees claimed that either they or their friends had experienced online abuse, while 71.9% of respondents stated that cyberbullying has escalated in both severity and frequency. The lack of penalties for cyberbullying has broadly empowered individuals who hide behind virtual or anonymous identities to participate in criminal activities without any fear of consequences. However, in an era where the Internet is deeply interconnected, anyone could become the next victim. Who should take responsibility for ending online abuse? It becomes critical to consider whether to rely on platform companies to moderate their content for the public interest or whether government intervention is necessary to steer the direction (Flew, 2021). This article will study how the Chinese most popular social media platform, Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of X (Liu, 2023), regulates online abuse under the guidance of the Chinese government.

How is the Chinese government involved in content regulation?

In contrast to other countries where platforms enjoy broad freedom of speech and are typically not bound by national or government regulation (Gillespie, 2017, P258), the Chinese government exerts extensive control over social media platforms within its borders (Divine, 2023). The Chinese government has significant power to censor and control all content on domestic social media platforms. Consequently, how these platforms regulate online abuse is heavily influenced by the guidance of the Chinese government.

In 2011, the Chinese government established the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), responsible for implementing the Internet information dissemination guidelines and policies issued by the government and promoting the legal system of Internet information dissemination (Government China, 2011). As the phenomena of online abuse proliferated on Chinese social media platforms, the agency launched a campaign to “rectify” online abuse in 2022, focusing on 18 websites and platforms that are prone to cyberbullying and have significant social influence, including Sina Weibo, TikTok, Baidu (CAC, 2022). This initiative guided the platforms in regulating and implementing online abuse regulations. Additionally, it articulated the responsibility of the platforms and strengthened relevant punishments for platforms once cyberbullying occurred. During the 14th National People’s Congress this year, Deputy Weihong Luo proposed enacting the “Anti-Cyber Violence Act” (Yao, 2024). She argued that current Chinese laws lack a uniform identification of online abuse, leading to fragmented adjudication standards and unclear legal responsibilities, which fail to provide strong constraints. Furthermore, she articulated the platforms’ responsibilities and obligations, including establishing a robust early-warning mechanism, enhancing protection measures for parties involved, and rigorously preventing the dissemination and proliferation of information related to cyber violence.

“The phenomenon of cyberbullying leading to suicide occurs repeatedly. Everyone could be the next victim. Establishing specific regulations is a response to the societal outcry and also an urgent necessity.” —— Weihong Luo, Deputy to the National People’s Congress 

How does Sina Weibo respond to the government’s requirements to address online abuse?

Indeed, almost all platforms develop and implement rules to moderate offending and illicit content on their sites, whether for economic or long-term developmental reasons (Gillespie, 2017, p. 262). However, developing these rules is not instantaneous; platforms must justify and refine their specific rules when encountering different and problematic content. In contrast to platforms in other countries that may seek guidance from each other on how to address such issues (Gillespie, 2017, p. 263), Chinese domestic platforms have to follow the government’s guidance. Sina Weibo, a prominent Chinese social media platform known for its real-time information exchange, became one of the platforms focused on during the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) rectification campaign.

Figure 2: Weibo

Prevent the dissemination of online bullying information

The secondary spread of online violence information can result in exponential harm, which can exacerbate the severity and extent of online abuse. In Yang’s case, certain prominent influencers on Sina Weibo disseminated distorted information, and some maliciously edited videos, fueling online abuse directed at Yang and her family. Users unaware of the actual circumstances but only encountering distorted information and subjective, biased perceptions may be swayed by the bullying rhetoric.

To prevent the dissemination of online bullying information, the CAC requires platforms to enhance the management of comments, particularly focusing on news, posts, and topics highly associated with cyber violence. This involves promptly removing or filtering illegal and abusive content, closely monitoring and controlling the spread of online bullying comments, and strengthening public oversight. Sina Weibo has devised a series of approaches for managing comments. Since March 2022, Sina has implemented “friendly comments, civilized speech” guidance reminders under each post’s comment area, and pop-up reminders are displayed for users whose recent comments have been repeatedly deleted or reported. Following this, Sina created the “online abuse monitoring” model based on comprehensive criteria and samples of online abuse information, which can effectively monitor and remove more than 50,000 unfriendly pieces of content per day. To bolster public oversight, all comments posted by users will now be displayed on their profile page so that all their traces on the Internet are now visible and will be monitored by everyone. According to the 2023 Sina Weibo Governance Report, by the end of 2023, the platforms’ monitoring model automatically intercepted over 120 million unfriendly messages, and platforms manually reviewed and removed 225,000 unfriendly messages. It seems like under stringent monitoring and removal measures, the discussion atmosphere on Sina Weibo has become friendly and harmonious. Nevertheless, this might be a facade of prosperity. Increasingly, Weibo users complain that their posts or comments are being removed without specific reasons, with only reminders that they are violating Weibo’s conventions. While these monitoring and removal measures prevent online abuse, they also significantly impact regular information exchange and violate the right to freedom of expression.

As Gillespie (2017) argues, removing illegal and offending content demonstrates platforms’ decisive commitment to protecting the public, but it also comes with challenges. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make the users feel protected from the harm of online abuse; instead, it will provoke rebellion and skepticism. Users question the platform’s motives behind deleting reviews: Are they merely complying with government requirements and creating an illusion of harmony? Or are they trying to silence dissent and prevent the truth from being told? Will this removal approach stop the online trolls’s bullying behavior? I think the answer is no, but it will discourage normal users’ participation instead. Even though it’s impractical to manually review all comments or establish specific criteria for each, platforms should avoid adopting a one-size-fits-all approach by removing all suspected illegal content. Sina Weibo could adjust its monitoring model based on user feedback to enhance user understanding and encourage compliance with criteria for identifying online abuse. Sina could compile a list of various types of online abuse and suspected illegal keywords, allowing users to rate which ones they consider harmful. If more than 50% of users agree that certain words are harmful, Sina can incorporate them into the monitoring model. This approach allows users to participate in developing criteria rather than enforcing unclear standards upon them.

Strengthen the protection of online abuse victims

The CAC requires platforms to strengthen the protection of online abuse victims, including the following three aspects: First, implementing a “one-click protection mode” to swiftly filter out negative voices immediately after cyberbullying occurs; Second, optimizing rules for private messages, such as selectively blocking stranger messages; Third, establishing a fast-reporting channel to simplify the reporting process and assist victims in gathering evidence of cyberbullying (CAC, 2022).

Sina Weibo responded promptly to these requirements and adjusted its functions accordingly. In March 2022, Sina officially launched the “one-click protection mode.” This feature serves as an emergency measure for users facing significant personal attacks, automatically blocking all messages, comments, and retweets from strangers for seven days. Additionally, to provide further protection to the victim, this function was escalated in the following aspects: Firstly, if cyberbullying has already occurred, activating the “one-click protection mode” will automatically hide history comments from users who have not previously followed the victims. Secondly, to prevent users from harassing victims through posts and mentions, activating the “one-click protection mode” will block all notices from strangers (Jiemian News, 2022). Additionally, Sina justified the rules regarding private messages, allowing users to choose to reject messages from strangers. They also launched the “One-Click Proof Function,” enabling users harassed via private messages to select multiple chat records in bulk as evidence for filing complaints (Sina, 2022).

Figure 3: The Sina Weibo Official Account posts guidance on activating the “one-click protection mode,” adjusting the settings for receiving private messages and comments, and outlines the procedure for utilizing the “One-Click Proof Function.”

These three functions have had significantly positive effects. Following the optimization of the private message reporting process, the success rate of the “One-Click Proof Function” has increased by 30%. Moreover, the number of users sending unfriendly private messages has decreased by 70% compared to the previous year (Sina, 2023). However, this protection is not only beneficial to the victims but also applies to all users, including the perpetrators. In this regard, these functions can be seen as a double-edged sword. Trolls or perpetrators could potentially exploit the “one-click protection mode” after posting harassing or bullying content, enabling them to block all condemnations or negative responses.


From the case study of Sina Weibo, this blog explores how the Chinese government and platforms collaborate to combat online abuse. Sina Weibo’s actions align closely with the guidance of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). However, the government and other platforms still have a long way to go to address online abuse effectively. The government should expedite the development of the “Anti-Cyber Violence Act” to define online abuse clearly. Legislation and judicial precedents can establish standards and boundaries for internet behavioral norms. Platforms should formulate regulation standards with user input rather than simply adhering to government requirements. Additionally, platforms must consider measures to prevent online trolls from exploiting victim protection approaches as a shield against their actions.


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