Causes and governance of online abuse

The case review:

On May 23, 2023, a first-grade pupil of Hongqiao Primary school in Hanyang District, Wuhan City, was hit by a teacher’s car in the school and passed away after being taken to hospital. After the incident, the child’s mother went to the school several times in the hope of seeking justice for her child. Bao (2023) states that she accepted some interviews at the scene and endured the pain to clarify her thoughts and analyze the incident to journalists. These interviews were widely distributed on Chinese social media platforms such as Douyin and Weibo, and some self-publishing bloggers created second-hand versions of the interviews. The majority of netizens expressed sympathy and concern for the mother. While some netizens attacked her looks with vitriol, saying that her child died tragically and she still has time to dress up, is trying to gain traffic to become an online celebrity; saying she gave the interview calmly without the grief of a mother whose child had died and so on. All kinds of online vicious attacks made the loss of the child’s mother more desperate, therefore she jumped to her death on June 2 under severe online abuse (Bao, 2023).

Figure1. “Cyberbullying concept. ” (

There have also been numerous such incidents of online abuse on China’s online platforms that led to the victim’s suicide. On January 10, 2022, Xuezhou Liu, a boy searching for his family in Hebei Province, was abandoned twice after meeting his birth mother. On January 18, 2022, Xuezhou Liu’s biological parents claim through media platforms to reveal Xuezhou Liu’s demand to buy a house, and online abuse ensued. On January 24, 2022, Xuezhou Liu committed suicide by taking drugs in Sanya (Liao, 2022). During COVID-19 in April 2022, a Shanghai girl gave 200 yuan to a courier who tried his best to help her and the girl was attacked on the Internet for being too stingy and finally jumped off a building and committed suicide (Zhao, Liu, & Feng, 2021). Several incidents of online abuse frequently triggered heated discussions among netizens, and the governance of online abuse has also become a hot topic on the Internet. 

What is online abuse and analysis of possible causes of online abuse:

Online abuse, which includes both interpersonal attacks, such as harassment and bullying, and verbal attacks against target groups commonly called ‘hate speech’, highly influences netizens’ lives all around the world (Vidgen, Margetts, & Harris, 2019). Flew (2021) pointed out that online hate speech as well as online abuse and its amplification through social media and online platforms have made a growing and worrying issue for online platform users. People increasingly tend to express their opinions freely on online platforms, ranging from national politics to family affairs. The characteristics of the online platform, such as high interaction, large group base, and strong invisibility, have become the shield of the keyboard man, and the difficulty of online forensics and accountability has made the online media platform once a lawless place for users to vent their emotions and express their views arbitrarily (Zhao et al., 2021).

Figure2. “Online abuse is rife in the media and finally someone is tackling it” by Bianca Barratt

The timeliness of news reporting requires most events to appear in front of the public at a moment’s notice, but it is difficult for journalists to present a clear and complete picture of an event in the shortest possible time. All events are developing and changing, and focusing on continuous reporting is an essential way to understand the full picture of the news. But on the online platform, many netizens blindly output their opinions on the first reaction to the first report, thus many of these opinions are one-sided and inaccurate. In the reporter’s continuous reports, people slowly learn the truth of the matter, which may be different from their first view, so they will regret their previous vicious statements. They will regret their previous vicious statements, so there will be a reversal of public opinion caused by fragmented reading and understanding (Qian, 2020). Just like the mother of the child in the incident of “elementary school student killed by teacher’s car”, numerous netizens initially questioned her and denigrated her, but after she jumped to her death, they began to realize their own mistakes.

The post-truth era refers to an era in which perception is more vital than truth, that is, objective facts and truth have less influence in shaping the public opinion, while netizens’ appeal to personal emotions and original personal beliefs will have a greater impact (Yerlikaya & Aslan, 2020). Just as the above examples illustrate, the timeliness and fragmentation of news reports and the dynamic nature of news events enable the public to make subjective judgments without knowing the full picture of events; the development of self-media has broken the top-down communication channels of traditional media, the public has a high degree of freedom of speech, and the phenomenon of “post-truth” public opinion has become increasingly serious, which has led to endless problems of online abuse and public opinion guidance (Zhou, 2021). Therefore, bringing additional challenges to online governance and supervision in the current era of social media development.

The governance of online abuse:

Cyberspace is the common home of netizens and should not become a place outside the law. In the face of frequent online chaos, how to regulate online abuse and how to manage the online environment has become a crucial part. To achieve this, the government, media platforms, and netizens need to work together to promote peace in the Internet world.

1. Government deployment-example of Cyberspace Administration of China

In recent years, the relevant departments of the Chinese government have continuously stepped up their efforts to regulate online abuse by law. In April 2022, Cyberspace Administration of China carried out the “Qinglang – Special Action on Online Abuse Governance” to strengthen the governance of online abuse, which “focuses on 18 online platforms that are prone to online violence and have great social influence, and carries out a full chain of governance through the establishment and improvement of measures such as detection and identification, real-time protection, intervention and disposal, traceability, and publicity and exposure (CAC, 2022).” 

CAC (2022) issued an order on the governance and supervision of online abuse at the national level and imposed requirements for several media platforms with a high concentration of netizens. After the Qinglang Action, media platforms actively responded to the government’s call to address online abuse and hate speech issues in various ways. Since the Qinglang Action was launched, more than 30 special rectification efforts have been carried out to address prominent Internet problems such as online abuse, chaos in the media platforms, and hate speech, clearing up more than 20 billion illegal and bad information and nearly 1.4 billion accounts (Wang, Gao, 2022). Today, the Qinglang Action continues, which revolves around netizens in the Internet world, trying to create a civilized and healthy online environment for the majority of netizens, and accurately crack down on prominent problems of the Internet. The Qinglang Action in 2024 puts forward different requirements and tasks for online platforms: such as correcting the false and vulgar chaos in the field of online live streaming, regulating the online environment for minors, and regulating online language (Zhou, Zhang, 2024).

2. The online media platform positively respond-examples of Douyin and Facebook  

Douyin is one of the social media platforms with the widest audience in China. I think the biggest feature of Douyin compared with other social media platforms is its popularity. It has a wide vertical age span of users and a wide coverage of users. The relatively free cyberspace opens the door to freedom of expression for netizens, which is a double-edged sword. New speech and opinions generate fresh ideas, but the invisible cyberspace is also a breeding ground for countless online abuse. How to regulate and prevent online abuse is also a goal that Douyin needs to continuously strive to achieve. In July 2023, Douyin updated the platform’s governance norms on online abuse, hoping that netizens could express themselves more gently and kindly, and called on netizens to completely understand the truth before expressing their views. Zhou (2023) mentioned Douyin also regulated speech, making requirements such as not using insulting and discriminatory words to attack others’ appearance, gender, race, and identity, not creating rumors and slandering others, not threatening or intimidating others, and not disclosing others’ personal information. If the content published by netizens violates the governance norms, the platform will punish the account, and serious cases will be transferred to the judiciary. From July 1 to 26, 2023, under the new governance norms for online violence, Douyin intercepted a total of about 7 million messages, checked back and cleared up 78,000 messages, and disposed of 4,843 accounts (Zhou, 2023). Moreover, Douyin has designed a one-click anti-violence function reminder, which allows users to customize anti-disturbance protection to prevent strangers from searching and commenting in time to prevent online violence from being voiced. 

Regulation of online media and social platforms varies across countries and regions. On the issue of hate speech, Facebook Europe has worked with governments and civil society to take vital steps to quickly identify and remove hate speech on the platform (Sinpeng, Martin, Gelber, &Shields, 2021). They fed content from different contexts and cultures into proactive machine-learning detection filters, and they strengthened manual reviews. Sinpeng et al. (2021) state that Facebook has developed several content moderation policies and accountability measures, and they hired market specialists to bolster their capacity to respond to discrimination at the national and local levels. Despite this, Facebook needs to take more reasonable and effective measures to address the hate speech issue in the Asia-Pacific region. Because of the complexity of the context in the Asia-Pacific region and the fact that some countries do not have specific legal frameworks to deal with hate speech, the LGBTQ+ community in the Asia-Pacific region is helpless in the face of online abuse (Sinpeng et al., 2021). This is an issue that Facebook should continuously focus on.

3. Netizens should improve their Internet literacy

The spread of online abuse and hate speech in cyberspace is not sufficient to be solved by the continuous prevention and governance measures taken by the government and platforms. The root cause lies in the rapid development of the Internet and new media, and the improvement of Internet literacy of netizens cannot keep up with the level of Internet development. In such a situation, Bromell (2022) stated that restrictions on freedom of speech must be necessary, not only to recognize and respect the legitimate rights of others, but also to comply with the moral requirements of a democratic society and public order. The fight against online abuse must start with the improvement of netizens’ literacy, and the government and media platforms should take effective measures to supervise and regulate. It is an effective method to set up a special area for the promotion of online civilization knowledge in major online platforms and media to guide netizens to use decent language and speak rationally (Zhao et al., 2021). Douyin created and published videos and text on its official account Douyin Assistant to guide netizens on how to be quality citizens in the Internet world in a way that netizens like, and to popularize the specific forms and types of online abuse for netizens. Secondly, the government needs to invest, not simply regulate (Bromell, 2022). In addition to timely control of online violence when it occurs, prevention and education in advance are equally crucial. It is necessary to popularize laws and regulations related to online violence to netizens, to enhance legal awareness, and to remind netizens that they must not touch the legal red line. At the same time, when they are suffering from online violence, they should also protect their rights and interests with legal weapons.


Online abuse has become a common and influential problem in contemporary society. In order to address this issue, all parties should make efforts. Governments, online platforms and individuals need to make different efforts to create a better environment for the online world and welcome further development.

Reference list:

Bao, Y. (2023, June 2). The mother of a primary school student in Wuhan has fallen to her death after her son was “hit and killed inside the school”. The paper.

Bromell, D. (2022). Regulating free speech in a digital age: Hate, harm and the limits of censorship. Springer.

Cyberspace Administration of China. (2022, April 24). Cyberspace Administration of China deploys “Clean· Clean Online Violence Action”.

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

Liao, Y. (2022, January 24). Sanya police: Liu Xuezhou died after rescue, the specific situation is still under investigation. The paper.

Qian, Y. (2020). Analysis of the Reversal Phenomenon in the Post-Truth Era and the Response of Mainstream Media. Youth Journalist, 2020(13), 47-49.

Sinpeng, A., Martin, F. R., Gelber, K., & Shields, K. (2021). Facebook: Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific. Facebook Content Policy Research on Social Media Award: Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific.

Vidgen, B., Margetts, H., & Harris, A. (2019). How much online abuse is there? Alan Turing Institute, 11.

Wang, Z., & Gao, L. (2022, August 19). Cyberspace Administration of China: The “Clear” campaign has cleared up nearly 1.4 billion illegal and bad accounts.

Yerlikaya, T., & Aslan, S. T. (2020). Social media and fake news in the post-truth era. Insight Turkey, 22(2), 177-196.

Zhao, H., Liu, Y., & Feng, W. (2021). The basic forms, causes analysis, and comprehensive treatment of online violence—Taking the example of “woman committed online violence and jumped off the building after giving the courier 200 yuan as a reward”. News Center of Ocean University of China, Shandong, Qingdao, 266100.

Zhou, J. (2023, August 4). Increase investment in governance Douyin and join hands with all sectors to oppose and resist online violence.

Zhou, W., & Zhang, J. (2024, March 16). In 2024, the “Clear” action will focus on 10 tasks.

Zhou, Z. (2021). Analysis of the Generation and Response to Irrational Public Opinion on the Internet in the “Post-Truth Era”—A Case Study of Liu Xuezhou’s Search for Relatives. School of Journalism and Communication, Zhongyuan Institute of Technology, Henan, Zhengzhou, 451100.

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