Online harm, maybe not just online

Murder due to hate speech

Murder in the courtroom

On the morning of 25 May 2021, a woman dressed in red entered the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver dragging a large suitcase. No one could have predicted what would happen next: the woman in red, after entering the courtroom and seeing Jing Lu, the person suing her, pulled a hammer out of her suitcase and smashed it into the back of Jing Lu’s head. After Lu fell to the ground, the woman in red immediately pulled out a fish-killing knife and stabbed it, continuously stabbing dozens of times. By the time the judge and security guards reacted to stop it, Jing Lu was lying motionless on the floor. And as the woman in red was being arrested, she was chanting like crazy that

“It was all Lu’s fault, it was all Lu’s fault……” (Little, 2023).

So how did this happen? Let’s turn the clock back to 2005 and take a look at online harm and hate speech at the time.

Figure 1:The fish-killing knife that stabbed Lu

Sparks from 16 years ago

On an ordinary day in 2005, Catherine Shen in Shanghai turned on her computer and prepared to search for some information about immigrating to Canada on a Chinese forum. But before she could collect the information she wanted, what she saw first were these words: “Don’t go abroad, you poor guys, you can only go out for foreigners to brush the dishes and lose the face of Chinese people. Only those who are powerful like us can enjoy the blessings of going abroad, do you understand?” (Wang, 2003). The person who posted this is the same Jing Lu who was stabbed and seriously injured sixteen years later, and the Shen who saw this post is the woman in red who stabbed her. According to Flew (2021), this kind of attack and discrimination against a specific group of people (poverty) on the internet (forum) by Lu can already be considered as hate speech.

Shen had only wanted to look up some useful information, but all she saw was Lu’s various displays of wealth and mocking remarks, so she began to feel offended. Therefore, Shen carefully researched Lu’s post and found that the new bag Lu had posted, which she claimed was worth tens of thousands of dollars, appeared to be poorly made. Finding this opportunity, Shen immediately began to comment on Lu’s post, “I thought you were rich, but it turns out you are carrying a fake bag. It is a real shame when foreigners recognise it!” (Wang, 2003).

Due to Lu’s usual arrogance and mockery of others in the forums, Shen’s discovery instantly drew a large number of supporters. As Barberá et al. (2015) found, social media platforms can create echo chambers, where shared opinions can reinforce one’s beliefs and, in some cases, even lead to radicalised behaviour. Netizens followed Shen under Lu’s post and said that Lu usually talks about how great she is, but originally it was all a lie. Although it is impossible to quantify how much online harm this caused Lu, it is certain that in the days following this she stopped speaking on the forums. These digital echo chambers amplify hostility and motivate participants to take more extreme actions. It did not take long for Lu’s counterattack to arrive.

Many of Catherine Shen’s personal information, including her education and marital status, was posted directly on the forum by Lu, who made hateful speeches such as “second marriage, no one loves her, kicked out by her mother-in-law” and so on. Suler (2004) explains that the dissociative anonymity and invisibility provided by the Internet may lead individuals to say things online that they would never say in person, a phenomenon known as “online disinhibition effect”, which may lead to more aggressive and hostile communication. At the beginning, for Shen and Lu, the screen provided a shield that made their hate speech feel consequence-free. However, Lu’s revelation of Shen’s privacy breaks this anonymity, making Shen virtually the equivalent of speaking under her real name. This caused Shen to become anxious and began to hurl abuse at Lu. The escalating hate speech between them continued until they both left the China.

Meet again in Canada

In September 2005, Catherine Shen’s family immigrated to Canada. In order to become more familiar with local life, Shen chose to use the Canadian forum to find out more. Unexpectedly, in the process, she came across a post with a very familiar tone and wording. By looking at the user profile, she was surprised to find that the account was Jing Lu’s. So Shen started posting hate speech under this thread she found again, questioning why Lu came to Canada to scam people, and that scammers can’t afford to buy a house abroad. Surprisingly this time Lu did not make any response, just said she was busy with work and did not have time to argue with Shen. According to Binns (2012), non-response in online disputes can sometimes be perceived as an admission of guilt, which can aggravate the accuser and escalate the conflict. Shen’s perception of Lu’s silence as confirmation of dishonesty, leading Shen to firmly believe that Lu was a liar. Remembering Lu’s leakage of her privacy when she was in China before, she scolded Lu every day on the forums.

In October 2007, after a long time of not posting in the forums, Lu suddenly made a move. She posted a house right on the front page of the forum and, ignoring Shen’s questions about the authenticity of the house, posted another advert for a basement for rent in 2009. Furious at being ignored, Shen called a friend to pretend to be a tenant to see what the rented basement was really like. And it turned out that Lu’s house was real, and a lot more luxurious than where she was living now. This made Shen feel ashamed, so in order to get back at Lu for leaking her privacy back then, she also posted Lu’s house address and various information on the forums.

This time, however, instead of continuing to ignore it, Lu chose to fight back. In October 2009, Lu also posted Shen’s address on the forum, mocking Shen’s small and shabby apartment: “Catherine Shen is so poor, and her apartment is so small that her son can only take physiology lessons at home” (Wang, 2003). On top of that, a photo of Shen was posted mocking her for not being liked by men for her looks, exactly like Grandpa Niu in Big Ear Tutu (2004).

Figure 2: Grandpa Niu in Big Ear Tutu (2004)

Lu attacks Shen’s son in addition to Shen, which makes Shen decide to start stalking Lu’s son. Shen hopes to find dirt on Lu’s son’s life through this stalking. After a while, however, Shen did not find much, so she resorted to another weapon commonly used when it comes to online harm: rumour-mongering. “Lu’s son is a rascal who doesn’t study. There’s no point in coming to Canada. He’ll never get into university” (Wang, 2003). However, the facts soon turned out to be contrary to Shen’s rumours. In April, Lu’s son was accepted to Harvard University in Cambridge. Completely unable to accept this result, Shen called Lu’s son’s high school again to ask if a Chinese student with the surname X (antonomasia) had been admitted. This time, Shen got the answer she was looking for: the high school said no.

Shen’s assumptions were finally verified, and she immediately and excitedly logged onto the forum to announce the news. The response she got was that Lu directly photographed and uploaded the university’s acceptance letter with a photo of her son being dropped off at school. This puzzled Shen, thus she called the high school again to confirm the situation. After careful investigation, Shen discovers the truth: it turns out that Lu, like her, is also married for the second time, which is why Lu’s son’s surname is different from that of her current husband! While in China Shen was accused by Lu for her second marriage, only to find out now that the two of them are actually the same. Shen immediately took advantage of this and started attacking Lu heavily on the forums.

In 2012, a large amount of Shen’s personal information, including her husband’s and children’s real names, home address and contact details, was made into a picture by Lu. Lu posted this picture under every post on the forum along with hate speech against Shen. Lou even went from posting hate speech on forums to sending abusive emails about Shen directly to her husband. In the meantime, Shen had been spreading rumours on the forums that Lu’s son had poor grades, that he only fought and fell in love at university, and that he could not graduate from the Harvard.

In 2014, Lu taunted Shen with a forum post about her son’s graduation from Harvard. Yet Shen still refused to believe it was true. According to Proctor (2020), “Shen emailed Harvard to question the validity of his degree — writing: Whoever lies will cause the death of his/her entire family. You are being fooled by the fraudster and running in circles.” But facts are not changed by rumours, and Lu once again threw out evidence of her son’s successful graduation. Lu’s successful rebuttal made her more and more proud, and she began to humiliate Shen with abandon in the forums. Shen for being called “the most famous cheap woman of Shanghai” and was suggested that her son “should be chopped up and oil put on him” (Proctor, 2020).

Figure 3: Harvard campus

Take to court

Shen was not idle in the face of Lu’s hate speech. After a period of investigation, Shen learnt that Lu owned a cafe and that both Lu and her husband were involved in the education industry. Therefore, Shen started rumours in the Chinese community that Lu’s education was falsified, she had no qualifications in education and her husband was a low-level teacher that no one wanted in China. These actions led to a rapid deterioration of the Lu’ local business and the near loss of their jobs. In addition, Shen secretly took photos of Lu serving customers at the coffee shop and posted them on the forum, saying, “Lu is not a real rich guy, she works as a waitress at the coffee shop herself” (Wang, 2003).

This series of manoeuvres was too much for Lu, and in a fit of pique she sued Shen in court for malicious libel and invasion of privacy. In court, both sides went toe-to-toe, both arguing that they were the victims. The judge was perplexed that they were so greatly conflicted, and as Proctor (2021) records, the Justice Elaine Adair wrote

“Both of these women, for reasons that remain largely a mystery, have demonstrated conduct that is flagrant and extreme…… However, neither recognizes that they are, in many respects, mirror images of one another.”

Figure 4: B.C. Supreme Court building in Vancouver

This case was appealed in 2016 and judgement was not delivered until 2020. The judgement resulted in Lu winning $9,000 in damages, but also being required to pay $8,500 to her nemesis. “The extra $500 was because Shen kept posting insults online even after Lu filed the first lawsuit” (Proctor, 2021). Because she believed that she was the victim, Catherine Shen could not accept the result and only paid Lu $250. The term 250 in Chinese means to call someone a fool, and Lu understood this, so she took Shen to court again in 2021 again. It was at this hearing that the murder mentioned at the beginning of the Blog took place.


Jing Lu was badly stabbed in the courtroom but was rushed to hospital in time to save her life. Catherine Shen, on the other hand, is expected to be sentenced to 16 to 18 years in prison. She was convicted on four counts, including attempted murder (Little, 2023). As cited by Binns (2012), Aboujade (2011) argues that allowing amoral, narcissistic behaviour online may also have dangerous consequences for the individual offline. When Lu flaunted her designer bags and taunted others on forums in 2005 about being poor and not worthy of going abroad, she probably never imagined that one day she would be murdered for it. She has no idea what kind of damage she’s done to others with words that have qualified as hate speech. And Shen may have started out simply pointing out that Lou’s bag was fake, out of discomfort and a sense of justice. Only to end up with more than a decade in prison in an ever-rising cycle of online harm. Through this case, we can be deeply aware of the dangers of hate speech and online harm, and should always remind ourselves not to engage in similar behaviours.


  Binns, A. (2012). DON’T FEED THE TROLLS: Managing troublemakers in magazines’ online communities. Journalism Practice, 6(4), 547–562.

  Barberá, P., Jost, J. T., Nagler, J., Tucker, J. A., & Bonneau, R. (2015). Tweeting From Left to Right: Is Online Political Communication More Than an Echo Chamber? Psychological Science, 26(10), 1531–1542.

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

  Little, S. (2023, June 15). Crown seeks 18-year sentence for woman who tried to kill rival in B.C. courtroom. Global News. Retrieved from

  Proctor, J. (2020, April 8). ‘Dog’ vs ‘donkey’: B.C. women take bizarre war of words to court. CBC News. Retrieved from

  Proctor, J. (2021, May 26). Bitter feud spills over into bloodshed with B.C. woman accused of stabbing rival in courthouse. CBC News. Retrieved from

  Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 7(3), 321–326.

  Wang, K. (2023, August 1). 16 years of disputes: From cyberbullying to offline attacks. Retrieved from

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