Online Harms: Comments on Weibo Are Devastating

The logo of Chinese social media app Weibo on a mobile phone (Reuters, 2021)

In the new media era, Weibo has become one of the most popular social media platforms for Chinese netizens to exchange and disseminate information. Since its development in 2009, Weibo has accumulated hundreds of millions of users. Weibo comments have become essential for users to express their opinions and feedback when participating in online social activities.

In Weibo, there are two types of comments: one is that users express their own opinions or views on a particular social phenomenon or issue through Weibo posts; the other is users make replying comments on other bloggers’ Weibo posts in the comment area, which is a re-construction of the content information.

Jin & Tay (2023) believe that offensive speech, such as trolling, dehumanization, and inflammatory speech, is ubiquitous in social media communication. In Weibo, both official news organizations and we-media attach great importance to interaction with other users in the comment area and even quote Weibo comments in news reports. Therefore, many users do not hesitate to use violent attacks to attract attention in the pursuit of maximizing their right to speak.

This blog will review the case of Du Meizhu suffering from Weibo online violence, analyze the motivations for spreading hate speech and rumors in the Weibo comment area, and explore how the Weibo platform can manage these issues to promote the healthy development of the Weibo public opinion environment.

“She is not a good girl because she looks so hot.”

Figure 1. Offensive remarks in Du Meizhu’s Weibo comment area

In July 2021, Chinese celebrity Du Meizhu publicly accused male artist Kris Wu on Weibo of having sexually assaulted her and other underage women and published some evidence and screenshots of the conversation (The settlement agreement Wu sent to Du and the transaction record of transferring 500,000 yuan) to prove her statement. Kris Wu debuted in the Korean pop group EXO in 2012 and became a solo singer and actor in China in 2014, with the support of tens of millions of fans on Weibo. Therefore, this sexual assault incident quickly aroused widespread attention and discussion among Weibo users.

However, most netizens’ focus on this sexual assault incident is not on the authenticity of the incident but on questioning Du’s motives for exposing the incident, and online violence ensued in the Weibo comment area. Wu’s fans also actively participated in the scolding war. They tried to defend their idol and launched personal attacks on Du in the comment area of Du’s Weibo. According to Figure 1, these offensive remarks abound in Du’s comment area, with almost everyone accusing her of not being a good girl and criticizing her appearance and clothing. These negative comments compounded the events, making it difficult for uninformed bystanders to distinguish the facts. Du also suffered tremendous psychological pressure and fear, and she did not understand why she was still blamed as a victim (Joyce, 2022). Du dropped out of university in Beijing and gave up on her dream because offensive comments online made her feel inferior.

Du is one of the young women who dare to speak out on Chinese social media platforms. She was only 17 years old when the case occurred. Traditional Chinese concepts attach great importance to the chastity of unmarried women (Vivian, 2022). As an unmarried or even underage woman, Du has sexual relations with a man, which makes it difficult for the public to understand the dilemma she faces. After Wu’s sexual assault incident was exposed, more people began to reflect on the constraints of traditional concepts on women, making society aware of the existence of gender discrimination. Nevertheless, online violence on Weibo has caused great harm to Du. It has also brought great pressure and fear to other female victims who dare to speak out in similar situations.

Why is online violence rampant in Weibo comment areas?

(Free Press Unlimited, 2023)

1. User anonymity

The main reason for online violence is that Weibo allows account anonymity. When users leave comments on Weibo, they are not actually present. Weibo even enables users to leave comments on accounts that do not fill in personal information. For example, users can use a false name or someone else’s account to spread discriminatory remarks without being held accountable. Therefore, in an anonymous online environment, people lose their inner constraints and sense of responsibility for their actions (Rosner & Kramer, 2016). People hide behind their accounts and vent their real-life dissatisfaction and anger online.

2. Some netizens (toxic fans) lost their minds

Take Du Meizhu’s comment section as an example; after she exposed Kris Wu’s sexual assault, most of the malicious remarks came from Wu’s fans. Arouh (2020) noted that news reports often portray fans as psychopaths who resort to violent and antisocial forms of online conflict to maintain the image of the celebrities they pursue. The offensive remarks of individual fans may not cause substantial harm to the victim. Still, the conscious guidance and incitement of the fan group and the formation of organized online violence in a short period will bring huge psychological pressure and pain to the victim. For example, influential fans in Wu’s fandom call on individual fans through Weibo fan groups to post vicious remarks in the comment section of every Weibo post by Du Meizhu.

3. Information disseminators lack media literacy

The rise of the Internet has enabled any organization and anyone to play the role of an information sender online, which means that the identity requirements of communicators have been greatly reduced. Some bloggers on Weibo deliberately emphasize binary oppositions to gain attention and increase the number of fans. They post hateful speeches to provoke abuse from users in their comment areas or spread false or misleading information. Although hate speech often takes the form of a joke or satire, it is essentially no different from offensive speech or slander (Terry, 2021). This behavior not only tramples on the human dignity of the victim but also disrupts a healthy and harmonious media environment and breaks the bottom line of media literacy.

The governance policy of Weibo

Figure 2. Screenshot of privacy settings in Weibo

Currently, Weibo gives users the right to set up comment areas independently. Weibo users can choose “Who can comment on my Weibo,” “Comment firewall,” “Allow comment with pic,” and other conditions in the privacy settings (see Figure 2). Bloggers can also block individual users to prevent them from commenting. Some accounts with real-name verified celebrities, actors, and other accounts with a large number of fans can set fans to “follow them for more than seven days before they can comment.” These measures have largely prevented the occurrence of nasty comments. However, due to the anonymity of Weibo and the non-real-name system of accounts, once users meet these conditions or use other accounts, they can still post comments of any point of view in the comment area. As a result, hate speech still abounds in comment sections.

To effectively combat online violence, Weibo released a policy for displaying user IP addresses on April 28, 2022 (Reuters, 2022). This move aligns with the “Qinglang” series of special operations promoted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which aims to control behaviors such as ridiculing, criticizing, and even fabricating rumors about famous events and figures. For example, during the COVID-19 epidemic, some netizens spread rumors that medical staff resold donated materials to make money, which caused public online violence against the medical staff (Jin & Tay, 2023). Therefore, Weibo’s disclosure of IP addresses can have a supervisory effect and persuade netizens to speak rationally. Without completely exposing personal privacy, it can make rumor makers have some scruples and serve as a specific warning.

In addition, the Weibo comment area adopts a display mechanism that places the number of likes at the top. The more likes commenters receive, the easier it is for their comments to be placed in a prominent position. For example, when some influential self-media users comment on social news events, their fans often like and reply to their comments, making them popular comments. However, users may find it difficult to verify the social responsibility of self-media bloggers. The remarks they publish are mainly intended to incite public sentiment and gain attention.

However, Weibo has never improved the mechanism of placing influential accounts at the top of the comment area. Roberts (2019) pointed out that most social media platforms will cooperate with other brands or technology companies to test users’ loyalty through comments and conversations. Therefore, capitalists will hire these users with a fan base to post guiding remarks in the comment area. In commercial content censorship and user filtering, Weibo needs to rely on manual reviews to conduct complex evaluations without violating the cooperation agreement.

The Chinese government’s regulation of Weibo

According to a report released by CNNIC (Xinhua News Agency, 2024), as of October 2023, the number of Internet users in China reached 1.092 billion, and the Internet penetration rate was 77.5%. Among them, Weibo’s monthly active users reached 511 million, accounting for half of the Internet users.

Undoubtedly, Weibo is the most important information dissemination and communication platform in China. Therefore, the government’s supervision of Weibo is an essential force in promoting the healthy development of Weibo while also maintaining network information security and social stability.

Weibo has updated its policy on displaying user IP addresses and the mechanism for user real-name registration and has set up Weibo monitoring specialists to review content. However, the platform’s self-regulatory policy still has limitations. For example, to attract more users to register and occupy a larger market share, Weibo will be lax in the supervision process, which requires government departments to refute false information.

In December 2021, Weibo was fined 3 million yuan by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for multiple violations of the National Cyber Security Law and the Protection of Minors Law (Reuters, 2021). In its previously issued regulations, CAC clearly requires that Weibo platforms establish a complete rumor-refuting mechanism, prevent the spread of violent and illegal content, and adopt background real-name and regular verification management of Weibo users. Weibo is different from traditional television or newspapers in terms of user scale, operation methods, and platform affordances. Therefore, the supervision method of blocking and deleting harmful speech cannot fundamentally solve the problem of online violence on Weibo; instead, it will arouse the rebellious psychology of the masses. The government should understand the needs of the public, disclose real information on time, and prevent users from speculating and spreading rumors about social events.


While Internet technology gives the public the right to speak, it allows users to post offensive remarks due to online anonymity. By reviewing the case of Du Meizhu being bullied online in the Weibo comment area, this article discusses how the government, platforms, and users should work together to build a healthier online ecosystem. As the connection between cyberspace and real society becomes closer, online hate speech and violent behavior will evolve into recognition and acceptance in real life, threatening social security. Therefore, the government and Weibo must clarify the legal responsibilities of violent acts to users and promote a rational and respectful online communication atmosphere.


Arouh, M. (2020). Toxic Fans: Distinctions and Ambivalence. Ex-Centric Narratives : Journal of Anglophone Literature, Culture and Media, 4, 67-82.

Free Press Unlimited. (2023). The impact of online violence on women journalists and press freedom [Photograph]. FREE PRESS UNLIMITED.

Jin, Y., & Tay, D. (2023). Offensive, hateful comment: A networked discourse practice of blame and petition for justice during COVID-19 on Chinese Weibo. Discourse Studies, 25(1), 3-24.

Joyce, K. (2022, November 27). Du Meizhu’s Friends Turned Against Her. JAYNE STARS.

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Roberts, S. T. (2019). Understanding Commercial Content Moderation. In Behind the Screen (pp. 33-72). Yale University Press.

Rosner, L., & Kramer, N. C. (2016). Verbal Venting in the Social Web: Effects of Anonymity and Group Norms on Aggressive Language Use in Online Comments. Social Media + Society, 2(3), 205630511666422-.

Terry, F. (2021). Hate Speech and Online Abuse. In Regulating Platforms (pp. 115-118). Cambridge: Polity.

Vivian, H. (2022, January 15). Deciphering Victim Responses in Celebrity Sexual Assault Cases. JAYNE STARS.

Xinhua News Agency. (2024, March 23). How does the Internet stimulate “new” forces in the economy and society? —The 53rd “Statistical Report on China’s Internet Development”. China Government Website.

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