Silent crimes: cyber violence turns the simplest language into a murder weapon

With the development of the Internet, freedom of expression online is also an essential part of the online experience for Internet users nowadays. People can express their thoughts and opinions by posting them in online virtual communities and find people who share the same thoughts as they do through online communities. As individuals communicate with each other through digital platforms, certain issues are becoming more prevalent. Acts of online violence and hurtful comments within virtual communities are increasing in frequency. Social media can amplify these forms of hate speech to an extent where they pose a threat to the daily lives of ordinary people who use the internet. Hate speech in online communities has a broader distribution through digital platforms such as social media, and digital technology has allowed these statements to be amplified and become a growing problem (Flew, 2021).

Unfortunate beginnings

This is a news story from Wuhan, China.On 23 May 2023, a primary school teacher in Wuhan hit a student while backing up his car, which caused this student to die after failing to get him to the hospital in time. Based on the teacher’s explanation, e signalled for the student to leave after noticing him around his car and waited for some time before continuing to drive. However, according to the CCTV recordings, the teacher’s vehicle stopped for 2-3 seconds after initially hitting the student. Despite this, the car soon resumed moving and ran over the student a second time. But according to other reports, the teacher’s car should not have been where it was because he had deviated from the school’s designated vehicle route. On 25 May, the Hanyang District Education Bureau issued an announcement indicating that the public security authorities had criminally detained the teacher and would be held legally accountable according to the results of the investigation into the incident. Furthermore, the school’s headmaster and vice-principal have been removed from their positions.

The incident was resolved satisfactorily, however, the parents of the student involved were dissatisfied with the school’s explanation of the accident. Additionally, there are several unanswered questions, such as why the child was not promptly taken to the nearest hospital and why the teacher was allowed to drive the car on campus without adhering to the rules. The mother of the student, Ms. Yang, decided to speak to the media following the incident. However, this behaviour sparked an intense debate on the internet. As a result, Ms Yang was subjected to a number of verbal insults from the internet for appearing in the public eye. After Ms Yang made a public appearance, many people on the internet made inappropriate and offensive comments about her clothing and physical appearance. Some internet users even accused her of dressing up nicely to try and gain more compensation for her son’s tragedy (Zhao, 2023). This behavior is unacceptable and disrespectful. Prior to her suicide, Ms Yeung had expressed her desire to leave with her son and had shared her distress and self-harming behaviour on social media (Ye, 2023). Then a week after her son’s death, Ms Young jumped from the 24th floor of her neighbourhood (Koetse, 2023).

In this incident, Ms Yang tried to help herself find out the truth of her son’s death by seeking the power of the media, but a lot of commentaries unrelated to this incident appeared on the Internet.

“She’s got a great body,” “She’s wearing a sexy dress,” “She looks like she put a lot of effort into dressing up,” “Is she wearing make-up? ” Another part of the comments questioned that she was putting on a show in front of the camera. “There was not a single tear in her eyes; is she really grieving for her child?” “She just wants more compensation.”

The replies to the post were filled with offensive comments, some of which were harassing in nature. Rather than offering support to this mother who had just lost her child, the internet dealt her a painful blow.

When people chooses to express themselves in cyberspace

Following Ms. Yang’s suicide, many people expressed their opinions on her behavior. Some people believe that the netizens should not be held responsible for her death. They claim that her tragic experience was a result of being thrust into the spotlight on the internet without proper preparation. The netizen emphasised that victims like Ms Yang, who like to express their grievances on the cyber mountain, should be given enhanced psychological support interventions as they tend to be more vulnerable targets of cyberbullying (Koetse, 2023).People often use social media to shape the expression of who they are. On social media, users can show their identity by using pictures to symbolise it and other ways, not just through verbal expressions, so they don’t look embarrassed. In addition, it is possible to connect with groups of people who share similar identity traits through social media. This can help strengthen one’s sense of identity and shape their image (Carlson & Frazer, 2018). This is the reason why so many people would choose to express their emotions publicly on social media, from which they hope to find people who share the same experience as they do, banking on strangers and wanting to empathise with them emotionally. It is also one of the reasons why Ms Yang chose to express herself publicly in the media after the death of her son, hoping to get emotional support from the press.

Who will be the next victim?

Ms Yang’s life also ended with the death of her son, but the harmful comments on the Internet did not disappear. Everyone can be a participant or a victim of online violence. For Ms Yang’s death, was it really because she didn’t get enough psychological support? Or is it because he should not have shown too much self-emotion on the Internet? According to Melović et al. (2020), specific vulnerable groups, such as women, are more susceptible to cyber violence. After being subjected to cyber violence, victims’ lives are often thrown into panic, which makes them more cautious. Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced cyber violence, particularly women and young females, tend to undergo significant changes in their behaviour. One of the most noticeable changes is in their physical appearance and the way they dress in public. These changes can have a profound effect on their behaviour and may also impact their ability to participate and feel included in society (Melović et al., 2020). In fact, women are not the only ones who may be subject to cyber violence, and cyber violence manifests itself in different ways for different groups in various environments. Data shows that men are more likely to be verbally abused. At the same time, women are more likely to be sexually harassed, which is the most common scenario in social media (Duggan et al., 2014). When attackers search for targets online, they often choose individuals who are likely to be harassed or subjected to violence because such low-cost interactions are more likely to inspire negative behavior. Many factors on the internet contribute to people making destructive decisions online, making it difficult to safeguard potential victims. Therefore, it is better to reduce the possibility of harm rather than trying to protect individuals on the internet (Keipi et al., 2017).

The attitude of most victims towards fighting back against cyber violence is also not apparent, and there are many victims who, more often than not, just choose to remain silent in the face of cyber violence. A survey conducted by Melović et al. (2020) revealed that 20% of cyberviolence victims choose to block their abusers on the internet, while 9.6% opt not to respond to such abuse. Shockingly, only 9.6% of victims seek help from relevant institutions after being subjected to cyberviolence. The survey also revealed that a mere 2.2% of victims believe that they need the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Freedom and boundaries of online speech expression

The internet has provided a platform for hate speech to proliferate beyond traditional forms of communication, such as street-corner gossip or physical handouts. With the ability to connect with people across social spheres online, hate speech has expanded its reach and presence in society(Keipi et al., 2017). Users’ online experiences are often personalised through the platform’s algorithmic recommendations, which are likely to push extreme or hateful content to users inadvertently. Social platforms usually rely on artificial intelligence, user reports, and staff reviews of content, all of which enforce platform rules regarding posted content (Laub, 2019). Although freedom of expression is also a point of great importance to contemporary society as an indispensable expression of social progress and freedom of thought, as well as a tool for human development, political life and intellectual advancement, these statements simultaneously reveal hostility and mistrust between people. Hate speech fuels intimidation and hatred. Victims have a hard time getting back to an every day, fulfilling personal life after being subjected to cyber-violence, are unable to relax, and may live in a constant state of fear (Flew, 2021).

Although there is no clear-cut question of whether Internet platforms, as intermediaries and publishers of harmful content, should be held liable for regulation at the legal level, the discussion on this topic has continued. It is unclear whether Internet platforms, as intermediaries, should be held responsible for regulation. Whether platforms and publishers of harmful content should bear the same degree of legal responsibility behind the emergence of harmful speech on the Internet, and the discussion on these topics has never ceased. While different countries have tried to promote different regulations for both platforms and individuals. The United States, to preserve the absolute freedom of expression of its citizens, in addition to exempting third parties from liability for posting illegal content, proposed regulations in the Communication Decency Act (CDA) whereby online content providers could be exempted from liability after posting harmful content (Einwiller & Kim, 2020). However, in China, those who disseminate harmful speech on the Internet need to take responsibility for their actions, and in serious cases, they also need to take legal responsibility. However, those who disseminate harmful speech on the Internet in China are responsible for their actions and, in severe cases, legally liable. According to Article 5 of China’s “Regulations on the Administration of Computer Information Network Security and Internet Security Protection”, incitement to ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination, and acts that undermine national unity on the Internet are strictly prohibited. These regulations provide enough space for freedom of expression but also serve the Chinese government’s purpose of maintaining ideological, political, and national security (Einwiller & Kim, 2020).

As responsible parties, Intermediaries should also strengthen the penalties for harmful speech. They need to delete and penalise comments and accounts that other users have repeatedly reported and increase their efforts to monitor accounts that other users have repeatedly reported. Platforms have to define harmful speech clearly, as vague censorship rules may harm the free speech rights of ordinary users and may spare the perpetrators of cyber violence.


Digital platforms are the central battleground for freedom of expression in the new era. From the perspective of Internet governance, the balance of multiple interests and the participation of various stakeholders can help to select and match platform accountability (Wenguang, 2018). Strengthening Internet regulation is one of the essential and influential ways to reduce online violence and harmful hate speech. It is all the more important for users to start with themselves to create a more harmonious environment for online communication.


Carlson, B., & Frazer, R. (2018). Social media mob: Being Indigenous online.

Laub, Z. (2019). Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons. Council on Foreign Relations; Council on Foreign Relations.

Duggan, M., Raine, L., Smith, A., Funk, C., Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2014). Online Harassment. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Einwiller, S. A., & Kim, S. (2020). How Online Content Providers Moderate User‐Generated Content to Prevent Harmful Online Communication: An Analysis of Policies and Their Implementation. Policy and Internet, 12(2), 184–206.

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

Keipi, Teo., Nasi, Matti., Oksanen, Atte., & Rasanen, Pekka. (2017). Online hate and harmful content : cross-national perspectives (First edition.). Routledge.

Koetse, M. (2023). From Reckless Driving to Cyber Bullying: Wuhan Mother Jumps to Death after Son Gets Run over by Teacher’s Car.

Melović, B., Stojanović, A. J., Backović, T., Dudić, B., & Kovačičová, Z. (2020). Research of attitudes toward online violence— significance of online media and social marketing in the function of violence prevention and behavior evaluation. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland), 12(24), 1–24.

Wenguang, Y. (2018). Internet Intermediaries’ Liability for Online Illegal Hate Speech. Frontiers of Law in China, 13(3), 342–356.

Ye, Z. (2023). In Wuhan, Mother Takes Own Life Days After Son’s Fatal Accident. #SixthTone.

Zhao Y. (2023). Online platforms suspend accounts after a mother, faced with online abuse after her son’s death, commits suicide – Global Times.

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