Hate speech: An invisible killing gun

Do you often see inappropriate hate speech when you browse the Internet? Do you often receive some bad comments when you use social media to share your life? Have you ever been attacked for your body or physical attractiveness when Posting pictures of yourself, causing you to suffer from appearance anxiety or even depression? When you discuss your favorite actor or literature on a forum, do you get comments like “Is this worth your liking?” or “I don’t think it’s good” that spoil the mood? 

As the Internet becomes more and more popular, almost everyone can leave a message on the Internet. It is precisely because of the increase in the number of netizens that comments and topics become mixed. Moreover, as people’s social pressure has gradually increased, the Internet seems to have become a vent for bad emotions. In recent years, there has been an increase in online violence and hate speech, including attacks, abuse, intimidation, threats, malicious comments, and more. Many netizens felt frustrated and terrified that they were among those targeted by hate speech.

How to define online hate speech

“Online hate speech is speech that uses the Internet as a medium to attack an individual or group on an online platform, such as gender, ethnicity, religion, region, disability or sexual orientation” (eSafety Commissioner, 2023). Some netizens post some statements, texts, pictures, videos, and other behaviors intended to slander, intimidate, or incite violence and prejudice against individual ethnic groups using fabricating facts or gratuitous abuse, which will cause physical and mental harm to the parties concerned and hurt the Internet environment. Hate speech can be divided into the following four categories: 1. Use of slanderous terms (whether related to race, region, gender, sexual minorities, or underprivileged discrimination) to call or insult other Internet users. 2. Use of gender identity or language directed at any person, such as attacking or degrading women with misogynistic language. 3. Use an individual’s characteristics to demean them or portray them negatively. 4. Abusive attacks on the aesthetics or personality of netizens because of different preferences or opinions. 

“I just want to look good for my graduation photo.”

Linghua Zheng, a graduate of Zhejiang Normal University in China, was attacked by online comments in July 2022 for her pink hair. On January 23, 2023, Linghua Zheng committed suicide due to depression after cyberbullying”(Lee, 2022). Linghua will be admitted to graduate school in July 2022. She shared the joy of receiving the admission letter with her sick grandfather and posted pictures of the beautiful scene on social media. Soon after the photo was posted, unflattering comments flooded her various social media platforms, many attacking her for her weird hair color and looking like a whore, questioning her status as a graduate student, and suspecting that Influencer was using her sick grandfather as a publicity stunt, as well as personal attacks and online sexual harassment. In the face of the malicious, Linghua was very aggrieved to explain that he dyed pink hair and just wanted to look better when taking graduation photos. She continued to post clips of her daily study, sports, and stage performances in updates on social platforms, as well as taking the teacher’s certificate, hoping to show her excellent side. At the same time, she also posted the progress of sorting out the evidence of Internet violence and rights protection, as well as the diary of active treatment for depression. However, the malicious hate speech did not stop, Linghua once tried to uninstall various social platform apps, but those offensive comments still circled in her mind. As a result, she needed weekly therapy sessions with a psychiatrist to help herself. Linghua thought that by defending her rights and explaining clearly, she could return to normal, but instead, someone attacked her even more. Days of hard adjustment can not let her completely let go, even with the help of family and friends, but this will never be able to cure the scars in Linghua’s heart. In January 2023, this kind and poor girl chose to end her life and leave a world full of malice for her forever. 

Linghua Zheng’s case is a very typical example of hate speech resulting in the death of a life. Such hate speech is suspected of bias against women, sexism, and collectivist bullying. “Under the influence of gender prejudice, discrimination and social and cultural concepts towards women, women are easy to become the main factors of Internet violence” (Jiang et al., 2022). In the old ideas of feudal East Asia, where women had few human rights, women had to comply  with the demands of men and society and were punished by the masses if they disobeyed. Although the culture of the new era has been emphasizing respect for women and calling for gender equality, the old ideas are still difficult to erase in some people. In their eyes, the excellence of women is not conforming to the traditional concept and makes them feel jealous. In addition, the colorful hair is different from the hair color of the public, so they feel a female “rebel” power. They will abuse such women, slander them, make sexual rumors, or sexually harass aggressive behavior as a female disobedience to their catharsis. Once women are rumored, it is also because the idea of female prejudice and stereotypes makes it easier for the public to focus on women’s privacy rather than the incident itself. For women, the influence of gender stereotypes prevents them from having a strong enough heart to fight against those who engage in hate speech. They often worry that others will have a bad view of themselves and enter the trap of eager “self-proof”, resulting in serious emotional friction. As a result, women who are targeted by hate speech and cyberbullying are bound to receive more attention and condemnation. Further, “behaviors that do not conform to the collective masses in Chinese society will also cause prejudice and gossip among others” (Smith & Robinson, 2019). These reasons eventually led to the tragedy of the Linghua Zheng incident.

Reasons for hate speech online

The tragedy of Linghua Zheng is not the only one, there are many tragic cases in any country where people are hurt physically and mentally because of hate speech and cyberbullying. We now live in a highly interconnected society, but it also encourages the occurrence and spread of hate speech. We may wonder, what is causing the proliferation of hate speech on the Internet? First of all, according to Tsukayama et al. (2021), “People are under increasing pressure in their lives, and they will find catharsis, while the anonymity and virtuality of the Internet provide hotbeds for the formation of cyber violence.” On the Internet, people do not match their net friends with those around them in daily life, nor do they have to take responsibility for their behavior, which makes people easily break the moral bottom line and express their opinions emotionally. Therefore, social platforms have become an extremely “hidden” corner to vent emotions. In addition, in recent decades, the popularity of the Internet and smartphones has given almost all people the opportunity to surf the Internet, and the quality of Internet users is uneven. Netizens tend to be impulsive and irrational, unable to think objectively, and often judge everything according to the narrow cognition of the surrounding environment, or just to follow the crowd, without personal opinion. For example, we often find that some Asian and African social media posts are attacked by individual users because of their skin color. If they refuse, these people will say that because I have met or only heard of an Asian or African bad person, I can conclude that all Asians and Africans are not good people. Such comments are the same as the Linghua Zheng incident, but they turn racial discrimination into sexism. Finally, one of the most frustrating reasons is that there are times when hate speech is completely no reason because the abuser is seeking attention for traffic. For example, there is a phenomenon in China’s Weibo social platform. In order to become an influencer, some people will register a user account and set it as “Only Followers can comment”, and then use this account to publish hate speech everywhere, so that netizens can refute and question them. In this way, all netizens who refute themselves will click “Follow” without realizing it. Over time, the user’s followers gradually increased to several thousand. Then, they will stop publishing hate speech and delete the previous hate speech, and after a period of time, they will change the user’s name, change the profile picture, and start publishing normal media content. While most Internet users have long forgotten these users, only to see a new influencer appear on their own “Recommendation page”. This is a very inconceivable reason, just to promote traffic, at the expense of destroying the network environment. Either of these three reasons will spread hate on the Internet. This leads to a vicious cycle of more polarizing hatred. 

How to prevent hate speech

In the face of these hate speech and Internet violence, which have brought many negative effects to society and individuals, we need to take measures to deal with it, so that Internet criminals can not harm us. To prevent hate speech, we need to start from three aspects: self-rationality, platform management, and government intervention. Firstly, we should keep ourselves rational, objective, and clear, and not be swayed by emotions and prejudices. Learn to judge and verify the authenticity of the source of Internet information, and avoid blindly believing and spreading unverified news. Also, if we see hateful speech, we should report it in time and not get into scolding and heated arguments. The right approach is to let hateful comments and topics disappear online. Secondly, as a place for information dissemination and  exchange, online platforms bear important responsibilities. Online platforms should strengthen management, increase the function of users to report, review, and filter content involving hate speech, delete illegal content promptly, and investigate the responsibility of the relevant accounts. In addition, technological means can also be used to limit the spread of malicious information, such as the application of artificial intelligence, which can reduce the spread of online violence and hate speech by identifying keywords and semantic analysis. According to Facebook for Business (2022), “Facebook announced four ways to block disinformation and hate speech or prevent it from spreading on the company’s social networking platform, These include tweaking the way the Information Flow algorithm works and expanding partnerships with the Associated Press, academia and fact-checking experts.” Thirdly, for hate speech, the state and government should strengthen the formulation of corresponding laws and regulations. “The spread of cyberbullying and hate speech can only be effectively curtailed if violations are strictly punished according to the law (Flew & Terry, 2021).”In addition to legal restrictions, public education and reducing social pressure are also important means to prevent online violence and hate speech. Schools and society should strengthen education on online ethics, laws, and regulations, and avoid spreading or participating in online violence and hate speech. Preventing hate speech is a complex issue that requires the joint efforts of governments, platforms, individuals, and society to create a harmonious and healthy online environment.


With the emergence of victim cases, the harm of hate speech is gradually perceived by the public, especially those suspected of discrimination against race, gender, and vulnerable groups, causing irreversible damage to victims. Therefore, from the perspective of protecting the dignity of victims, promoting group equality, and maintaining social peace, hate speech and online attacks must be addressed promptly. Moreover, from the exploration of preventing hate speech, it is not difficult to see that Internet content security supervision is a huge project, that requires various means to fight with extremists, and the participation of administration, legislation, technology, and so on is indispensable. In any case, the pursuit of regional peace and harmony in the network environment is the common wish of most people.


eSafety Commissioner. (2023). Online hate | eSafety for young people. https://www.esafety.gov.au/young-people/online-hate

Facebook for Business. (2022). Sharing actions on stopping hate. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/business/news/sharing-actions-on-stopping-hate

Flew, Terry (2021) Hate Speech and Online Abuse. In Regulating Platforms. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 91-96

Jiang, A., Yang, X., Liu, Y., & Zubiaga, A. (2022). SWSR: A Chinese dataset and lexicon for online sexism detection. Online Social Networks and Media. Elsevier.

Lee, W. (2022). Pink hair and China’s cyberbullying. Today Online. https://www.todayonline.com/world/pink-hair-china-cyberbullying-2121401

Tsukayama, H., Wong, N. T., Tramonte, L., & Yeung, E. W. (2021). Understanding cyberbullying in the time of COVID-19: Examining the associations between cyberbullying involvement and individual and familial protective factors among youth in the United States. Journal of Family Violence, 36(3), 319–332. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9876356/

Smith, P.K., Robinson, S. (2019). How Does Individualism-Collectivism Relate to Bullying Victimisation?. Int Journal of Bullying Prevention 1, 3–13. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42380-018-0005-y

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