The plight of vulnerable groups is aggravated by hate speech and online harm.

The plight of vulnerable groups is aggravated by hate speech and online harm.


Hate speech is defined as an aggressive speech aimed at specific groups which may cause severe damage, including Direct damage and indirect damage. It will hurt target groups physical and mental health continuously and lead to incitement of violence and discrimination in public places (Sinpeng et al., 2021). Prejudice is seen as the foundation and source of hate speech. It is commonly used as a weapon to against people who are different from most of the population, and the groups under such hate speech are scapegoats to distract public attention for complex social contradictions (Abdellah,2023). Such vulnerable groups usually suffer social disadvantages both online and offline due to the intolerant social environment.

2. The plight of vulnerable groups.

Different nations, races, genders, religions, sexual orientation are major reasons of hate speech. Unfortunately, the plight of vulnerable groups is aggravated by hate speech and online violence. The common feature of vulnerable groups is that they usually do not have high social status to speak up for themselves. More hate speech results in lower social status of them. It looks like a vicious circle of vulnerable groups’ situation due to hate speech. Moreover, group libel may lead to a negative impact on all members of the group (Jeremy,2012). For instance, LGBTQ+ groups always suffer kinds of fling abuses online because of their different sexual orientation and lifestyles. After some people identified their specific sexual orientation on social media, they may face unwarranted attacks for no reason. The problem is due to the simple fact that LGBTQ+ groups are regarded as weird and immoral in some nations and areas, it is difficult for them to defend themselves in this social environment of internet because they may be attacked in large numbers invariably. (Sinpeng et al., 2021). Worse still, they may also suffer raw deals offline, such as facing employment discrimination when they are looking for jobs.

Another common example is “unwanted” refugee groups. Refugees are the sign of invasion of different civilizations. In recent years, with the outbreak of regional wars, the issues of refugees are receiving on-going attention. Meanwhile, hate speech is used as a kind of costless attack with false information in refugees’ issues, which always links refugees with terrorism (Abdellah,2023). As a result, citizens may blame all social problems on refugees, and the increased number of refugees will aggravate the anxieties of the indigenous people of nations, social conflicts were moved and intensified in this context.

In addition to the above-mentioned minority groups, anyone who does not fit the stereotype of “traditional style” is at risk of being targeted by hate speech and online harm without assistance. People have a natural hatred for nonconformists and part of them are allowed to release more aggression in today’s anonymous online environment without scruple. With the development of personal social media and 24-7 online equipment, everyone can be a rumormonger, disseminator, or a victim of calumny. People may be defenseless if they do not have enough knowledge to identify hate speech and false information (Abdellah,2023).

3.Case study of hate speech and online harms.

(1) Donald Trump’s hate speech of refugee groups and racial discrimination

Donald Trump uses hate speech as political footwork frequently to incite antiforeign sentiment. During the outbreak of COVID-19(2020-2022), He called the Covid-19 virus as ”Chinese Virus” on Twitter. As the President of the United States at the time, he tried to distract public attention of unemployment and shattered healthcare system. The data collected by Xu, Jinghua & Weiss, Zarah (2022) was shown that hate speech rate of tag #china on Twitter is 2.5% in 2020. It is much higher than the data of 2017, which is only 0.6%. The researchers pointed out that the public hate speech of Donald Trump linked COVID-19 with China and all Chinese people, leading to a rapidly increased anti-China sentiment on social media. This sentiment undoubtedly caused many negative impacts on the offline lives of Chinese living in the United States (J, Xu & W, Zarah, 2022).

(图1:YOUTUBE视频截图: v=VGv9xPpe6vI)

Moreover, Donald Trump’s speeches include a lot of inflammatory hate speech of refugee groups. He expects to win more votes from right-wing voters and native Americans in this way. For example, in Donald Trump’s 17-minute public speech on January 15,2024, he cheapened the whole refugee groups. He asserted that refugee groups are terrorists from prisons, jails, mental institutions, and insane asylums. Same as his past speeches, Donald Trump emphasized that refugee groups destroy national security and the economy of the United States.

(2) A mother who lost her child committed suicide because of online harms.

(figure 2: screenshot of Weibo news dated JUN 02, 2023)

A tragic incident took place in a primary school in Wuhan on May 23, 2023. A primary school student was hit by a teacher backing his car up while retrieving a paper plane. Infuriatingly, the merciless teacher did not try to save that boy’s life as soon as possible but backed his car up again to kill the 6-year- old boy intentionally.

(figure 3: The boy’s mother waited helplessly at the school gate for a response.

screenshot of Weibo news dated May 25,2023)

In that frightful moment, the boys’ families, especially his parents, were heartbroken waiting for the explanation from the leaders of the primary school. However, the primary school gave no explanation and even no public apology. With such a tough situation, the families of this boy kept waiting at the school gate for three days. During this period, many journalists interviewed the boy’s parents for the details and progress of this tragic incident.

(figure 4: screenshot of Weibo Comments dated May 25, 2023)

Unfortunately, after journalists reported this news, some people not only did not sympathize with the mother’s suffering, but also caused serious online harm to her. These comments accused her of calmness and smart dresses. The commenters believed that a woman should be disordered, emotional and slovenly when she just lost her only son.

“This mom wants to be an Internet celebrity.”

“She dressed too formally.”

“Is she the boy’s mother? She is too calm.”

“She seemed to be describing someone else’s child.”

In fact, this mother suppressed her grief and wanted to ask for any help by being interviewed. However, some Internet users accused her of hyping with indelicate language. Furthermore, this poor mother was also attacked online because of her expensive suits and earrings. Those online harm makers questioned her sadness and her motivation, they even defamed her as a prostitute who wanted more compensation through her son’s accident.

Ten days after the accident, this tragical woman killed herself by jumping from level 24 of a building. She obviously suffered double damages both death of her son and extreme online harms. The focus of attention of public about this accident was skewed. Due to anti-wealth sentiment, misogyny and sexism, every woman may face universally potential physical and psychological damage both online and offline. In recent years, women are still invisible vulnerable groups, including the rich women. The above-mentioned mother was murdered by online harms.

4. Governance of hate speech and online harm.

(1) Government

In such an internet age, even if the spread is identified as uncontrolled, it is still necessary for the government to review related policy to protect people from hate speech and online harm. However, the measure of governance is difficult to define because the legislation and policy are required to guarantee free speech of people at the same time. It is impossible for the government to publish every hate speech and online harm maker timely.

According to Flew, Terry (2021), governments are required to establish a sound legal protection system for citizens’ human rights in internet areas. For example, the government of Australia passed Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act 2019, which criminalized the behavior of hosting and playing violence content online coercively. Meanwhile, governments of nations should also attach importance to improving citizens’ ability of information literacy. The government may be the principal element to solve the issues of hate speech and online harm because it is responsible, powerful, and capable of building a healthy public opinion environment which is friendly to everyone including vulnerable groups.

(2) Platform

The common methods of rejecting hate speech and online harm of social media platform includes key words (sensitive words) limit and detection, network real name system, friendly spoken points system, etc. For example, Weibo is one of the most popular social media in China. In 2023, its new rule required the users of Weibo to sign in the network real name system when they have more than half million followers. Weibo also shows the area of user when they comment others.

 Another notable example is the protect rule of XIAOHONGSHU, a popular social media in China, too. People can only send one message to a stranger in 24 hours until it replies, and the number of messages to strangers is limited in 24 hours, too. It is important and necessary that platforms keep trying to improve users’ experience, keep users far away from harassment and encourage users to use social media more ethically.

Platforms control the key digital technology of big data, push mechanism and personal privacy protection mechanism. They are practical builders of a healthy public opinion environment and principal information bridges between the government and citizens.  If platforms violate the law and infringe the rights of users for financial benefit or political position, it will be hard to create a safe opinion environment.

(3) individual

The individual is expected to be able to identify and reject hate speech spontaneously. In today’s complex social media, information literacy is seen as an important ability for ethical internet users (Abdellah,2023).

The precondition and expectation of ‘a free, open and secure internet’ is voluntary initiatives of individual users (Flew,2021). Information literacy is an essential element to achieve free and safe internet, or it is difficult for platforms and governments to protect users’ personal rights and free speech simultaneously. In today’s background, internet users should be thoughtful, because there is a large amount of inciting information online. Individuals also should realize that everyone may become one of vulnerable groups in special situations to remind themself to avoid using hate speech to cause damage.


The origin of hate speech is complex, such as different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. It is simply defined as a kind of language attack on certain groups in public which causes persistent harm. Hate speech is always coming with the online harm because the internet is the most popular tool of speech today. Therefore, the spread of hate speech is uncontrolled in a global range online, which can lead to disadvantages bigger than any hate speech before.  

In politics, hate speech is used as a weapon of getting votes and distracting public attention. vulnerable groups are the main target of such attacks suffering unfair treatments, they are scapegoats of policy. It is necessary to increase Individuals quality in such a complex speech environment, or people may become accomplices to hate speech with special position.

Only with combined effort of the government, platforms, and users can we avoid and reduce online harm of hate speech. Vulnerable groups face multiple stresses both online and offline and usually do not have enough ability to argue for themselves. The construction of a friendly public opinion environment needs persistent practice and improvement of the government, platforms, and users for a long time.


1. Flew, Terry (2021) Regulating Platforms. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 91-96.

2. Sinpeng, A., Martin, F., Gelber, K., & Shields, K. (2021, July 5). Facebook: Regulating hate speech in the Asia Pacific.  

3.Jeremy, W. (2012). The Harm in Hate Speech. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

4. Abdellah, E.-R., & Ruth, P.-G. (2023). EspañaInvadida. Disinformation and hate speech towards refugees on Twitter: A challenge for critical thinking.  EPI SCP, El profesional de la informacion, 2023-06, Vol.32 (3), p.e320321(1386-6710). 

5. Xu, J., & Zarah , W. (2022). How Much Hate with #china? A Preliminary Analysis on China-related Hateful Tweets Two Years After the Covid Pandemic Began.  Ithaca: Cornell University Library, 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply