A 23-year-old girl in China Committed Suicide due to Cyber-violence because she Dyed her Hair Pink– Is the Platforms’ Anti-cyberViolence Mechanism Effective?

Linghua Zheng and her grandfather (Pepe Talks About Documentary Stories, 2023)

This is a tragedy caused by cyber-violence and hate speech. A 23-year-old girl named Linghua Zheng chose to end her life on January 23, 2023, the second day of the Chinese New Year, because of cyber-violence, and the reason for it was just her pink hair.

1. Case review: Internet violence started with pink hair

According to the report of Qianjiang Evening News (2023), in July 2022, Linghua Zheng received a letter of acceptance for a master’s degree from East China Normal University in Shanghai, China and aimed to become a teacher in the future. She took the letter to the hospital to visit her grandfather who was hospitalized for cerebral infarction and cancer, hoping to give him a surprise. After that, she captured the happy sharing moment with her grandfather and uploaded the photos to Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social media site, as a souvenir. However, the tragedy began when the photos were stolen. On Douyin, China’s short video social platform, a user stole her photo and made it into a short video to advertise an educational training institution of gaokao (National College Entrance Examination) in China. She was described as an inspirational student who received a letter of acceptance from a technical college after failing the gaokao. The stolen photos and short videos were then quickly spread to more social platforms such as Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, Bilibili Bullet Chat Video Network, etc. There were more and more comments from netizens and more and more malicious comments. She became the target of attacks by netizens and was considered to be “making a name and attracting attention by taking advantage of her sick grandfather”, “her hair is a shame to her university” and “she is a bad girl, so she is not worthy of being a teacher” (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023).

According to Parekh (2012), hate speech is that “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”. In China, many people have stereotypes about girls with dyed hair, associating them with bad traits such as lower class, bad girls, and sexual indulgence. Not only that but women who dress too revealingly will also be discriminated against.  “Hate speech discriminates against people on the basis of their perceived membership of a group that is marginalised, in the context in which the speech is uttered” (Singpeng et al., 2021). Therefore this discrimination towards women is due to the sexism and prejudice of some people, and also due to the long-term objectification of women in the patriarchal society in China. Internet violence has brought great pain to Linghua. She once told a reporter: “If I die, would public opinion pay attention to Internet violence, or would these people who have published hate speech be ashamed for the rest of their lives?” (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023) She chose to fight hard and use legal means to safeguard her rights at first. Her undergraduate school also set up a group to help her seek legal assistance and psychological counselling but with little success. In the end, she could not bear the cyber-violence and chose to commit suicide.

2. The lack of platform supervision in Internet violence

“We understand hate speech not as speech that merely offends someone, or hurts their feelings, but as speech that can harm immediately and over time, and that therefore, and to that extent, warrants policy and regulatory responses”(Singpeng et al., 2021). When first discovered that she was being bullied online, Linghua immediately called the police and then went to the platform to report and complain to the rumor mongers, but the process was not smooth. First, the complaint process is time-consuming. In more detail, when submitting a complaint, it is necessary to fill in the personal information of the ID card, the reason for the complaint, the type of complaint, a personal seal, and the official seal of the company. Linghua spent nearly two hours filling in this form. At the same time, the reported article has been read nearly 3 million times, with nearly 20,000 comments, filled with all kinds of hate speech (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023). In addition, during the process of collecting evidence, Linghua needed to see malicious comments repeatedly, which deepened her mental harm.

However, the platform did not support her rights protection. When she applied to short video platforms such as Douyin to remove the infringer’s video and apologize to her, her complaint failed because the infringer had made the video private. On other social platforms, her private messages were blocked and her comments were ignored. As of 15 August last year, Linghua had complained about 34 online messages about violence on the Zhihu social media platform, but only 19 of them were judged to be violations and were deleted by the platform system (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023). The platform cannot provide specific information about the infringer, and the judicial process will take at least six months. Moreover, the possibility of successfully putting on record is also very small, because “the law can not be enforced when everyone is an offender”. There’s an industry forming on social media where fake marketing involves stealing photos and using them as ads to attract attention (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023). Infringers usually have various small accounts, which means even if the complaint is successful, they can appear again with new accounts.

Social media platforms, such as Douyin, use algorithms that exploit the most vulnerable aspects of human nature to attract users and keep as many users on their platforms as possible. Advertising is an important part of how platforms generate revenue, and increased user activity equals higher profits. It is not easy for the platform to restrict user activities. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, exposed the scandal of Facebook that “the thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money … The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.” (Pelley, 2021) Social media platforms decide what content to show in a user’s news feed based on the type of content the user has liked, shared or commented on in the past (Swart, 2021). Therefore violent, inflammatory, and outrage-inducing content performs well on these metrics, causing this type of content to be shown more often than benign content.

3. Who should be responsible for online regulation, individuals, online platforms, or legislation?

(1)Online platforms regulations

Regarding the management of online violence, China’s social media has set up certain protection mechanisms, for example:

Weibo: Provide rating treatments based on the level of participation, including restricting functions, short-term bans, permanent bans, closing accounts, and cooperating with relevant departments to pursue legal responsibilities according to law (Weibo, 2023).

Douyin: It has multiple anti-cyber violence functions including “post warning” and “negative content filtering”; under the “post warning” function, if the system model detects that there is a problem with comment that has been sent, a pop-up window reminder will be pushed, suggesting that the sender re-edit to remove inappropriate remarks and if the sender insists on sending, the comment will not appear in the comment area; under the “negative content filtering” function, when the model determines that a private message received by a user is abusive or harassing, the messages will be directly placed in the “Stranger Box – Spam” (Douyin, 2023).

Zhihu: Users can turn on the “WALL-E Bodyguard” functions; after turning it on, hate speech and private messages identified by the system will be folded, hidden or deleted; in serious cases, they will be blocked; when users post unfriendly content in comments and private messages, they will receive prompts for modifications suggested by the community; in the private message scenario, unfriendly content will be automatically folded and risk prompts will be triggered; users can choose whether to browse the message details as well (Zhihu, 2023).

Bilibili: An intelligent interception function has been launched for private message scenarios; the system will directly intercept conversational content that is suspected of being harassing or harmful; in scenarios such as comments and bullet chats, users can turn on the comment selection mode and set bullet-chat keywords to filter out inappropriate content; the platform will also use the depressive emotion recognition mechanism to identify users with depressive tendencies, and directly trigger the anti-cyber violence model after discovering relevant content; if content related to suicide is detected, the platform will urgently intervene with experts to determine the risk level and establish contact with the users, appease their emotions, and report to the police for handling it if necessary (Bilibili, 2023).

However, although online platforms have protection mechanisms, it can be seen in the Linghua’s case that in practice, the supervision of online platforms will encounter difficulties in obtaining evidence, conflicts of interest, and so forth. This leads the platform to ignore hate speech, preferring to bear the compensation caused by such extreme cases, rather than proactively strengthening supervision to avoid affecting its popularity, which tends to result in ineffective supervision.

(2) Legislation

Internet violence violates the law and is illegal in China, which means relevant actors need to bear corresponding legal responsibilities. According to Chinese regulations, civil subjects own the right of reputation, and no organization or individual may infringe on the reputation rights of others by insulting, slandering, etc. (Civil Code,  2020). Also in the regulations, those who openly insult others or fabricate facts to slander others shall be detained for not more than five days or fined not more than 500 Chinese yuan; if the circumstances are serious, they shall be detained for not less than five days but not more than 10 days and may be fined not more than 500 Chinese yuan (Law on Public Security Administration Punishments, 2012). According to Article 246 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, those who slander others with violence or fabricated facts, if the circumstances are serious, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention, public surveillance, or deprivation of political rights (Criminal Code, 2020).

However, in reality, though the person who stole Linghua’s video is likely to be guilty of libel and should also bear corresponding liability for mental damage, the fine is not high enough. For netizens who publish hate speech, they can only be held civilly liable. For example, apology and mental compensation are basically impossible, and the costs of evidence collection and rights protection are too high.

(3) Responsibility of individuals

One of Linghua’s last wishes was that her pink hair could become a symbol of resistance to online hate speech and violence (Qianjiang Evening News, 2023). After her suicide, there have been more girls posting pictures of their pink hair to stand with Linghua and appeal to girls to do what they want freely and ignore hate speech. In addition, there have been some people who advocate the “Pink Campaign” to appeal to online users to resist to Internet violence together to make Linghua’s last wish come true. However, on the other hand, some net citizens abused on the social media pages of cyberbullies, spread their private information and called on everyone to call and report. In other words, those who attacked back to cyberbullies are trapped in a cycle of fighting violence with violence, and there would be no end of it.

4. Conclusion and suggestions

Linghua’s case indicates that individuals’ speech and actions online should be regulated by online platforms and legislation, otherwise, they tend to be impulsive and blind. However, online platforms should take more social responsibilities rather than always put their profits first. For example, they can simplify their complaints handling process to make it more efficient. In addition, they can also update their supervision system to react at first time when catching cyberbullies and other misconduct. Finally, the enforcement and sanctions from third parties are also very important (Flew, Terry, 2021). In more detail, government should strengthen supervision and regulation of online platforms to ensure they implement their responsibilities according to the regulations.


Bilibili. (2023). Bilibili Community Convention. https://b23.tv/F7HCsS3

Civil Code 2020 (PRC) reg 1024 (CHN).

Criminal Code 2020 (PRC) reg 246 (CHN).

Douyin. (2023). Tiktok Community Self-discipline Convention. https://v.douyin.com/iYBEXG4s/

Flew, Terry. (2021). Regulating Platforms. Cambridge: Polity.

Law on Public Security Administration Punishments 2012 (PRC) reg 42 (CHN).

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.

Pelley, S. (2021, October 4). Whistleblower: Facebook is misleading the public on progress against hate speech, violence, misinformation. CBS NEWS. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-misinformation-public-60-minutes-2021-10-03/

Pepe Talks About Documentary Stories. (2023, July 6). Review Graduate Student Zheng Linghua’s Suicide, Suicide Note Exposed! She was Bullied Online for Dyeing Her Hair Pink. Baijiahao. https://mq.mbd.baidu.com/r/1hayfIWRKJG?f=cp&rs=2788156719&ruk=G3iBR5bDC7KswOS54ziYlQ&u=b964a8a45d109323&urlext=%7B%22cuid%22%3A%22gPv5aluw2alVu2ifl824uliASi_DiHfj0uvc8YuxHi_Lu2a40aHGigf0WR5liWR8b9UmA%22%7D

Qianjiang Evening News. (2023, February 21). A Girl from Hangzhou, China Who was Bullied Online for Her Pink Hair Committed Suicide. Sohu. https://m.sohu.com/a/643844264_121627717/?pvid=000115_3w_a

Sinpeng, A., Martin, F., Gelber, K., & Shields, K. (2021, July 5). Facebook: Regulating hate speech in the Asia Pacific. Final Report to Facebook under the auspices of its Content Policy Research on Social Media Platforms Award. Dept of Media and Communication, University of Sydney and School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.

https://r2pasiapacific.org/files/7099/2021_Facebook_hate_speech_Asia_report.pdfLinks to an external site.

Swart, J. (2021). Experiencing Algorithms: How young people understand, feel about, and engage with algorithmic news selection on social media. Social Media + Society, 7(2), 205630512110088. https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051211008828

Weibo. (2023). Weibo Community Convention. https://service.account.weibo.com/roles/gongyue?from=10E4093010&wm=3333_2001&weiboauthoruid=1934183965

Zhihu. (2023). What is Unkind Content on Zhihu. https://www.zhihu.com/question/20239684/answer/26476378?utm_psn=1760699576963903489

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