The Incident of Large Dog Biting a Girl: Exploring the Balance between Hate Speech and Freedom of Speech

Flickr/John S. Quarterman. CC BY-2.0.

The development of network technology has undoubtedly brought a great degree of convenience to people’s lives, with the help of the network people can easily shop, communicate, and achieve a lot of tedious operations. The Internet also allows people to express their views anytime and anywhere, and anyone has the right to view them. While one would expect a friendly and stable online environment, the fact is that there is an increasing amount of hate speech and cyber-violence on the Internet, turning the virtual world of speech into the reality of suffering.

How can we define hate speech/cypher violence?

Hate speech is defined as speech that expresses, encourages or incites hatred, distinguishing between particular individuals or groups by certain characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. By attacking certain characteristics of groups or individuals, the target group is humiliated and made to feel that it is an unwelcomed presence (Flew, 2021).  Such behavior is clearly contrary to human rights principles, and the development of social media and platforms has potentially aided the growth of hate speech online, which can be exponential in an atmosphere where the authenticity of information is not guaranteed, and the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories goes unchecked (Luís Roberto & Luna van Brussel, 2023). However, excessive interference or attention to speech on online platforms may be challenged as an interference with the right to freedom of expression, which is the main point of our discussion today. First, we will consider a case study:

A social wave sparked by a dog biting a girl.

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In October 2023, an unleashed Rottweiler ferociously attacked a two-year-old girl on the side of the road in Chengdu, Sichuan province, southwestern China. Surveillance footage shows the girl’s mother taking the girl for a walk in her neighborhood when she was attacked, and despite attempts by the mother and a number of passersby to stop the dog, the girl suffered serious injuries, including a lacerated kidney, broken ribs, and numerous bite wounds. After the video went online it quickly drew widespread attention in China, with people expressing their condolences and sympathy for the injured family and some debating how to regulate the keeping of pet dogs in cities (Global Times Ed. 2023). Netizens debate how to handle pet ownership after Rottweiler attacks 2-year-old. As a result of the public outcry, the local authorities quickly detained the dog owner and launched further investigations, while a wider operation is further underway. Provinces such as Anhui, Hunan and Henan have issued announcements that they will arrest off-leash dogs and stray dogs in public places for safety reasons, and have issued rules to regulate, for example, that dogs over 55 centimeters tall are not allowed to enter residential areas, and that if they do so, the dog will be arrested and the owner fined. Up until this point, the reaction on Chinese internet platforms was mainly supportive, but a few days later this attitude changed dramatically.

Two main events occurred in the days following the incident that led to a dramatic shift in attitudes. The first was a fund-raising campaign launched by the family of the girl in question on an online platform, which led to an outpouring of sympathy. A few days later, some unverifiable statements appeared on the online platform exposing the family’s relatively favorable family conditions and claiming that the fundraising had already reached several million yuan. A heated debate ensued, with most people arguing that the girl’s treatment did not require such a large sum of money, and questioning the parents’ use of the child’s accident to gain money for themselves. The second incident was the revelation that stray dogs were being caught and killed in a certain area, backed up by a blurry video. Although it was later discovered that some of the videos were old ones from long ago, they still caused strong resentment at the time that the catching and killing was atrocious and inhumane, and some celebrities from China’s entertainment industry likewise took to social media platforms to voice their opinions, calling out that ‘an animal’s life is also a life’;  ‘you can hate dogs, but please don’t mutilate them’ and other comments, but also let people find a platform and object to express their voices. For a while, China’s social media platforms were filled with heated discussions on how to regulate dog ownership, which not only aggravated the pressure of public opinion on the government, but was even affecting the government’s credibility.

The incident ended hastily, the government had to control some extreme comments as the comments on some platforms had risen to the level of personal attacks and attacks on the social environment, but this undoubtedly angered some people who wanted to express their opinions, the discussion is still going on, but the object of people’s attention has no longer been the bitten girl or the stray dog that was mutilated, this incident will fade away from the limelight after a period of time. The parents of the condemned girl have released a statement saying that they will donate all the money raised to charity and that they hope the online community will stop attacking their two-year-old child. The issue of stray dogs has not been properly resolved, and with different provinces still having different standards, calming public opinion in the aftermath of the incident has become a priority. People may have initially paid attention to the incident out of the goodness of their hearts, but the final outcome was not satisfactory.

Hate Speech VS. Freedom of Speech

Online hate speech not only causes far-reaching harm to individuals and societies, but also triggers important discussions on freedom of expression. The spread of hate speech not only exacerbates social tensions, but also weakens social cohesion and civic trust. With the rise of social media, the question of how to balance freedom of expression and social responsibility has become an urgent one, and we need to think about how to prevent the spread of online hate speech while protecting the core value of freedom of expression. The first question may be how we should draw the line on online hate speech. According to some opinions of Yong (2011), content in the online world that may be hate speech is classified into about four categories, such as targeted defamation, organized defamation, and etc. The criteria for such a division may be worthwhile to learn from and help us to further refine the measures to deal with different kinds of hate speech: for organized and targeted speech, punishment or even trial is inevitable, and the degree of punishment can be determined by the impact caused by the posted speech, while for assertions made due to a lack of understanding of things, it may be possible to focus mainly on warnings and deletion of the speech, and in the case of respect for the As far as possible, the online environment can be maintained while respecting the principle of freedom of expression. Taking the incident of the girl bitten by a Rottweiler as an example, initially, the Government did not intervene in the discussions on the online platform, and fund-raising and other activities were carried out normally. However, when individual extreme remarks appeared, the platform or the Government quickly intervened in the management of the incident, and since it was not possible to recognize the authenticity of the source of some information, and it was necessary to avoid the remarks from further aggravating the situation, the temporary deletion of some remarks was understandable and acceptable. We can notice that there are similar protection measures on platforms such as YouTube and X. When you want to post some offensive or discriminatory hate speech, you may be automatically blocked by the platform, so that others will not see what you have posted, and in serious cases, you may also be temporarily banned from posting. This also leads us to our next discussion: should platforms or governments step up regulation?

The regulation of speech on online platforms has been a noteworthy issue in recent years because the impact of online speech can be very significant, and according to Sande and Maforo (2022), some organizations and parties may use hate speech as a political tool to achieve their goals by creating violence and psychological impacts or to inspire negative sentiments among the population. Platforms are regulated differently, with some regulating online hate speech with the help of AI.  AI technology has the ability to process large amounts of data and information to help find insightful knowledge. However, AI is not perfect and the distinction of online hate speech may not be as effective as expected. This has also led to the government no longer trusting the ability of social media and internet companies to self-regulate and thus guide society in determining whether content is right or wrong, and thus the government is struggling to find ways to regulate social media and internet companies through legal channels (Intahchomphoo & Tschirhart, 2022). A possible solution is to combine manual auditing with AI, and through organized and specialized group auditing, it can not only complete the specification of the platform, but also generate some business value (Roberts, 2019).

This blog argues that the delineation of the boundaries of regulation is also an important part of the equation, as Villiers (2022) argues that targeting specific incidents rather than restricting speech in general is a way to both respect freedom of speech and effectively limit online hate speech. This has been better refined in recent years, with more ways to limit and target some hate speech based on technology and AI. Taking China’s social platform Weibo as an example, a system exists in Weibo’s back-end system to identify some uncivilized words or words involving personal attacks and political metaphors, and any attempts to send posts on Weibo with these words will be rejected. However, there are also people who try to post hate speech through homophones and other means, which is beyond the reach of AI, and large-scale targeting may result in false blocking, so manual review is particularly important. In addition to top-down regulation, we would like to call for a healthy online platform environment initiated and shaped from the bottom up. Every online platform now has a relatively complete reporting system, which allows you to submit screenshots and other evidence to challenge other people’s comments, but of course, there are some groups that will intentionally report collectively to get some posts blocked; at the same time, we should also cultivate the basic concept of ‘a dike of 1,000 miles is destroyed by an anthill’, If more people can participate in the maintenance of the network platform environment, the network atmosphere can gradually become better.


Internet hate speech has been under scrutiny in recent years, and due to its difficult-to-classify and regulate nature, we need a better system to deal with the relevant issues. This blog leads people to think about where to draw the line between hate speech and free speech, and how we should improve the environment of online platforms, through the discussion of the incident of a Rottweiler biting a two-year-old girl. The article argues that the government and platforms should refine the demarcation of hate speech in order to better regulate its growth while respecting the principle of freedom of speech, and at the same time strengthen the regulation of online platforms when necessary and conduct auditing through a combination of manual and AI methods. In addition, we should also raise our own awareness, be friendly to people on the Internet, and do what we can to change the current online environment.

Reference List

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

Global Times (Ed.). (2023). Netizens debate how to handle pet ownership after Rottweiler attacks 2-year-old. Global Times.

Intahchomphoo, C., & Tschirhart, C. (2022). The evolution of data and freedom of expression and hate speech concerns with Artificial Intelligence. Legal Information Management, 22(1), 45–48.

Luís Roberto, B., & Luna van Brussel, B. (2023). Democracy, Social Media, and Freedom of Expression: Hate, Lies, and the Search for the Possible Truth. Chicago Journal of International Law, 24(1), 51–70.

Roberts, S. T. (2019). Behind the screen: Content moderation in the shadows of social media. Yale University Press.

Sande, N., & Maforo, B. (2022). Hate speech as a politico-religious tool in contemporary Zimbabwe. Journal of Religion in Africa, 51(3–4), 348–363.

Villiers, B. D. (2022). Freedom of expression and hate speech: When values collide in divided societies. Constitutional Review, 8(2), 184.

Yong, C. (2011). Does freedom of speech include hate speech? Res Publica, 17(4), 385–403.


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