Wuhan tragedy: Online hate speech and its challenges


As internet and digital technologies advance in China, so-called freedom of speech brings with it a huge threat of online hate speech and online harm. At the same time, this also brings huge challenges in data policy and governance. The spread and amplification of hate speech and online harm through digital media has been recognized as an extremely important and urgent issue(Flew, 2021). In the Internet age, what hurts a person or group is not necessarily a sharp sword, but also invisible hate speech. It is therefore crucial to have a deep understanding of what hate speech is and its challenges. This blog aims to focus on a real case of hate speech about women in Wuhan, China, analyze the hate speech and online harm behind the Internet, and explore challenges of governance in China.

Case Spotlight

In 2023, a tragedy occurred in Wuhan, China, which shocked the country. On May 23, 2023, a primary school student in Wuhan, Hubei Province was hit by a car and crushed to death during school activities. On the seventh day after the tragedy, the primary school student’s mother chose to commit suicide by jumping from the 24th floor. That day happened to be the day after Children’s Day and also the seventh day after her son passed away.

Why did this mother choose to commit suicide so quickly, and what happened to her after her son died? The answer is hate speech and online harm.

During the seven days from May 23 to June 2, this mother not only suffered the sudden pain of losing her son, but was also hit by the invisible fist of online hate speech. On the day of the accident, the mother rushed to the scene of the accident upon receiving the notice, without even changing her work clothes and number plate. She is an excellent real estate salesperson, and because of her career, she always maintains a refined and professional appearance. And due to her high academic qualifications and professionalism, this mother showed a calmer attitude and strict thinking logic when her son was involved in the accident. But her professionalism became the reason why she was hurt. On the Internet, there is constant online harm to this mother. Internet comments about this mother can be divided into two types, namely gender stereotypes and inappropriate remarks about appearance. On the one hand, some critics criticized her calmness and clarity in handling the accident, believing that she was using the accident of her son’s death as a show and wanted to become an Internet celebrity. On the other hand, because of his beautiful face, figure and exquisite outfit, some netizens of the opposite sex made teasing and Sexually suggestive comments.

Pan, X. (2023). The mother of a student who was hit in Wuhan fell to her death from a building. Digging into the truth reveals the real murderer, which makes people shudder! Retrieved from https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1767745319374621051&wfr=spider&for=pc

In this case, the mother endured a lot of hateful comments online because of her gender, simply because she was a woman. In the traditional concepts of some Chinese people, women are the weakest party, and female victims should be broken and weak. Due to historical reasons, sexist views are still circulating in China. As far as this case in Wuhan is concerned, for female hate speakers, the calmness and rationality shown by this mother and her clean and tidy clothes every day are the original sin. She is supposed to be a weak woman, breaking down and crying, feeling sick and incapacitated. However, the image of the mother in this case is inconsistent with the weak image of female victims in people’s minds. Because this mother’s excellent performance is not in line with the vilified image of women under sexism, gender-related hate speech began to attack her. Hate speech and online harm due to gender took away this young mother’s hope of survival.

What is Hate Speech?

However, the case of this mother in Wuhan who was harmed by hate speech is not an isolated case. Lingiardi once conducted a hate speech survey on the Twitter platform. Lingiardi collected hate speech in the comment section of the Twitter platform into a corpus. After analysis using semantic network analysis, a map of hate speech based on the Twitter platform emerged. The study found that hate speech mainly targeted six groups, namely disabled people, Muslims, Jews, gays, immigrants and women. Shockingly, the data shows that of these six groups, women receive the most hate speech(Yin,2022).

Hate speech is not far away from life. This section will lift the lid on hate speech and further elaborate on its definition and related elements.

The discussion of hate speech can be traced back to the early twentieth century. In the twentieth century, when racism was rampant, much of the hate speech was directed at racial traits. Hate speech is therefore considered racial slurs and insults aimed at harming or marginalizing an individual or group(Jiang,2015). After that, the connotation of hate speech began to enrich and expand. And with the development of the Internet, Internet hate speech has begun to attract people’s attention. Because of cultural complexity, there is currently no clear and unified definition of hate speech. However, based on current research, hate speech is generally considered to express or encourage hate speech against a certain individual or group, and its targets have specific characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc(Parekh, 2012). A report released by Facebook on regulating hate speech in the Asia-Pacific region shows that hate speech is also characterized by openness of speech and systematic marginalization of targets (Sinpeng et al., 2021). 

The components of hate speech underpin the concept of hate speech and are the cornerstone of understanding the characterization and governance of hate speech. Hate speech consists of four elements, namely the target, the method of expression, the intention of the expression, and the harmful consequences(Jiang,2015).

The first element is target. Hate speech can be directed at individuals or groups. This group of people has significant identity characteristics that are innate or acquired. Race, gender, religious beliefs, etc. belong to the category of their identity characteristics. It is worth noting that when the target is an individual, there is a clear distinction between hate speech and insults, slander, etc. Unlike insults, slander and other insults about personal behavior and characteristics, hate speech targets the identity characteristics of the group represented by the individual. In the above case, the identity represented by the mother who committed suicide in Wuhan is that of a woman. Because her strength and excellence as a woman deviated from the stereotype of weak and terrible women, she received hate speech. And because of her gender, she also received teasing comments. The second element is expression. Mode of expression refers to the way hate speech is spread, such as oral communication, written expression, etc. Due to the development of the Internet, the diversity of media has allowed hate speech to be spread and stored in various forms on the Internet, such as the combination of text and images. In the above cases, hate speech was mainly expressed through words and images on online platforms. The third element is expressing intent. Expression of intent refers to the attitude of the speaker towards the act of publishing hate speech, including discrimination, prejudice and hatred. Among them, discrimination is the most common intention expressed in hate speech incidents. In the case of Wuhan, the most prominent psychological attitude of hate speech speakers was discrimination. The hate speech speaker’s sexism against the female group led to the stereotype of the female group as weak, emotionally broken, and disheveled. Therefore, he launched a hate speech attack on the excellence of this mother in Wuhan. The final element is harmful consequences. Harmful consequences refer to the negative consequences of hate speech. Hate speech can cause both psychological and physical harm to victims and their groups. Hate speech harms individuals and groups, and may also lead to social unrest. In the case of Wuhan, the most direct harm was the mother’s depression and suicide. And it also hurts women as a group.

Challenges of online hate speech governance

Online hate speech and its harm have attracted social attention, but there are still many challenges faced in the governance process. The main online hate speech challenges for China can be classified into the following two aspects.

On the one hand, information on the Internet spreads quickly and widely. The arrival and development of the Internet era is also a double-edged sword. Immediacy is a major feature of the Internet. Once hate speech is posted online, it can be spread immediately. But it does take time for the government and platforms to monitor and control speech. This makes it much more difficult to regulate hate speech in a timely manner. At the same time, information dissemination on the Internet is very wide. Entering the Internet age, the earth has become a global village. The wide scope of communication and the huge amount of information make effective supervision even more difficult. And the Internet has memory, and all data on the Internet will be stored. Therefore, once hate speech is published on the Internet, it is difficult to completely eliminate it. This also has a long-term and potential impact on the victim groups, the online community, and even the entire society.

On the other hand, the Internet’s low entry threshold and user anonymity also pose regulatory challenges. With the development of the Internet, its popularity and scale have gradually increased. Unlike the traditional media era, the barriers to entry for the Internet are also gradually lowering. This has also led to a gradual increase in user diversity. Especially in a large social system like China, various groups of people increase the possibility of publishing hate speech online. The most important thing is the anonymity of the Internet. The anonymity of online users will make it difficult to control speech, because the government and platforms cannot directly know the actual person who posted the speech. And anonymity will give netizens psychological protection. Anonymity prevents people from taking into account their true identity and influence in social life, making it easier to expose the evil side of their hearts and participate in the release of hate speech.


In conclusion, this blog introduces the concept of online hate speech through the case of a mother in Wuhan, Hubei, China, who was injured and died by online hate comments, and deeply explores the definition and components of online hate speech. Finally, the blog analyzed the challenges of regulating online hate speech in China. The rapid spread, wide range and memory of information on the Internet, as well as the low entry threshold and anonymity of the Internet are major challenges to strengthening the control of online hate speech in the future. In China, the concept of Internet hate speech is not yet popular and has not received enough attention. This blog aims to better promote the control of online hate speech through detailed conceptual analysis and challenge analysis. Every piece of hate speech is a sharp knife, and controlling this harm requires not only the efforts of the government and platforms, but also the personal control of everyone.


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

Jiang Yong. (2015). On hate speech and its restrictions (Master’s thesis, Tsinghua University). https://kns.cnki.net/KCMS/detail/detail.aspx?dbname=CMFD201602&filename=1016712850.nh

Parekh, B. (2012). Is there a case for banning hate speech? In M. Herz and P. Molnar (eds), The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses (pp. 37–56). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sinpeng, A., Martin, F. R., Gelber, K., & Shields, K. (2021). Facebook: Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific. Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney. https://hdl.handle.net/2123/25116.3

Yin Tingting. (2022). Research on the propagation behavior and motivations of “misogyny” in online male communities from the perspective of field theory (Master’s thesis, Shanghai International Studies University). https://kns.cnki.net/KCMS/detail/ detail.aspx?dbname=CMFD202301&filename=1022775538.nh

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