Hate Speech and Cyberbullying on Chinese Social Software Platforms, Using the Case of the “Pink Hair Girl” as an Example

The development of network technology has made the dissemination of information more rapid. However, under the influence of the anonymity, zero-threshold, and instantaneous nature of social software platforms, the negative effects of online expression have also been heavily criticized. Online expression has brought about some cultural illnesses that are different from previous traditional media, hate speech and cyberbullying. The Internet has amplified certain dark and obscene forces in human nature and infinitely multiplied the spread of Internet incitement, hate speech, and cyberbullying.
Behind all these cultural ills is the reality of cyber violence invading the public space. Under the influence of cyber violence, not only public figures but also those obscure and ordinary people have been “hit”. Some cyberbullying causes “social death” of others, while others cause serious consequences such as mental disorders and suicides of the victims, thus affecting the public’s sense of security. How has cyber violence, as a “small dose of poison”, turned ordinary people’s lives upside down? What kind of online violence is happening on China’s social software platforms? What have they done? Who is responsible for cyberbullying and hate speech? What are the causes and characteristics of cyberbullying? What is the current situation in China? Let’s analyze these questions through the heartbreaking case of the pink-haired girl.
The Fall of the Pink-Haired Girl
On 13 July 2022, Zheng Linghua received a postgraduate acceptance letter from East China Normal University, and she rushed to the hospital to tell the good news to her grandfather, who was lying on the hospital bed. Soon after she posted the photo of her grandchildren on the Xiaohongshu platform, something unexpected happened – the photo was successively stolen by several marketing numbers on the Jieyin platform and by a certified blogger on the Baike platform, and then spread on the Internet, where netizens criticized and abused her pink hair because of her status as a student at a teacher training college. Some called her a “whore” or “escort”, some said that she was in love with her grandfather, and some said that she sold her body in exchange for her diploma.

Linghua’s personal page
In Linghua’s handwritten suicide note, she left behind a pencil drawing: a crying child sitting on the ground, from the neck to the navel of the chest, four obviously thickened lines stand, tied into a “prison door”, inside stood a crying child, holding the “railing” looking out. This may have been Linghua’s last mental projection before she died. 23 January 2023, on the second day of the Year of the Rabbit, Linghua ended her life at the age of 23 years. In her suicide note, she said, “Inner trauma, can’t remember much due to medication.” Before she died, she took a lot of antidepressants. Among the reasons she “tried her best to list”, the first one was “cyber violence”.
Causes of cyber violence
Such tragic consequences, a major reason is microblogging, small red book as the representative of the information flow product model more inclined to the square social, the user sees a series of hot push, commercial placement, attention to the dynamics of the algorithm integration of the content. Everyone can participate in judging the discussion under each topic, and netizens believe they are given the power to evaluate. In Chinese culture, being a teacher is a very serious job. Teachers are subject to many dress code constraints in the unspoken rules of society: no dyed hair (especially exaggerated colors), no tattoos, no piercings other than ear piercings, conservative dress, and so on. In recent years, as millennials have entered the workforce, this dogma has loosened somewhat, but there are still many people who have the stereotype that “dying your hair makes you a bad person”.
However, the fact that cyber violence is a form of lynching and that there is no way to impose a sentence often results in unlimited punishment for social misbehavior. Another reason for the tragedy is the difficulty of defending rights in cases of cyber violence. For Linghua, in most of the malicious comments, especially those referring to her grandfather – cyber violence did not end because she took the initiative to defend her rights, complained to the platform, showed a lawyer’s letter, appealed through the media, and filed a lawsuit, but some abusers instead intensified their attacks on her and continued to attack her.
The most difficult part of defending her rights is searching and fixing evidence. Since it is a private prosecution, all evidence must be collected and fixed by her and her lawyer. Initially, she notarized 15 microblogging screenshots, 165 Baike screenshots, and a burned disc of Shakeology videos to keep as evidence. Later, more and more evidence needed to be notarized. And since the malicious remarks came from all directions, it was difficult to file a lawsuit against every one of them. The manpower and financial resources needed to be invested in this process are also very costly.
In a previous interview, Jin Xiaohang, the lawyer representing Zheng Linghua in the cyber violence case, told reporters that insulting remarks and defamatory remarks are the two main types of cyber violence. The former slut-shaming the person in question, by degrading the person’s hair color, explicitly or implicitly associating them with sex workers; the latter is typical, such as improperly associating the person in question with his grandfather. In addition, “for abbreviations, harmonic stems, spoof emoticons and other cases that do not directly violate laws and regulations, it will be more difficult for the person concerned to defend his or her rights. Chinese is a hieroglyphic script, which means that people favor the shape of the characters more than the pronunciation. This has resulted in a very large community of homophonic characters. The most widely used platform tool to combat cyberbullying is to screen keywords and phrases for blocking. However, users can always find words that sound like hyperviolent words and uncivilized phrases to replace words that may be blocked.
Cyberviolence under Government Governance and Platform Control
Cyberviolence on Chinese Social Media Platforms
Due to internet control and other reasons, the popular social platforms in China are slightly different from ins and Facebook, which are popular in Western countries. China’s social platforms, mainly Xiaohongshu and Jieyin, and on these social software platforms, cyber violence is commonplace. Data show that only 2023 March 6 nearly a week since the key social software cumulative intercept involving network violence illegal and illegal information more than 4.01 million, cleaned up the unfriendly and other information more than 72,000, disposed of account 8511. Behind the huge data, what is hidden is the prevalence of bad Internet culture and the phenomenon of cyberbullying. The bad speeches intercepted are only a very small part of cyberbullying incidents, and more bad behaviors that are not detected by the platform are destroying the victims of cyberbullying.
Problems in the governance of cyber violence
Firstly, there is no specialized legislation or judicial interpretation for cyber violence. This also means that the road to defending rights with civil lawsuits is arduous. After Linghua’s suicide, and perhaps because of this year’s recurring incidents of cyberviolence, China’s Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and Ministry of Public Security issued in September 2023 the Guiding Opinions on Punishing Cyberviolence Violations and Crimes by the Law. This is only a draft, but it proves that the authorities are beginning to take the Internet ethos seriously. However, there is still a long way to go in the fight against Internet violence. Second, although most platforms have reporting systems, cyber violence governance still faces challenges such as varying platform standards, insufficient multi-platform cross-platform synergy, and privacy balance.
Firstly, different platforms have different conditions for screening online violent speech, as well as different sensitive words. This can make it difficult for users to form a holistic concept of online violence and comply with online speech norms as they would with other social conventions.
Second, as in the case of Linghua, her photos were initially stolen from other platforms for profit, and there is very little cross-platform regulation, making it difficult for users to get proof of theft. Finally, due to the popularity of China’s real-name system on the Internet, it acts like a double-edged sword, restraining individuals’ online speaking behaviours while making it easier for others to access their personal information.
What can everyone do?
Anti-net violence requires the combined efforts of platforms, netizens, legislation, and regulation. The legislature has introduced a special Anti-Internet Violence Law, and platforms need to make great efforts to rectify the Internet culture. Internet platforms, as network service providers, need to assume the main responsibility for the controversial grey content, which can be determined through user-crowdsourced voting, if the violation of the content is true, the platform needs to be disposed of promptly. It is particularly important to enrich the complaint channels, improve the function of proof, and assist the departments of judicial organs in investigating and collecting evidence. How to allow users to conveniently find the complaint portal, quickly, batch to the platform to submit relevant evidence, and become the relevant platform must answer the question.
Netizens, on the other hand, should pay attention to their social speech to avoid “public opinion out of focus”. Not only should they pay attention to their speech when posting comments, but they should also know how to use platforms and legal weapons to protect themselves when encountering online violence. Be good at reporting bad online speech and know how to protect your rights and interests. If you encounter online violence, you should do psychological counseling in time. Eradicating Internet violence is not a matter of one moment, one place or one family; it is also inseparable from the self-discipline and efforts of hundreds of millions of Internet users. For individuals to focus on the release of insults and abuse, rumors and slander, invasion of privacy and other illegal information and other unfriendly information, through the fermentation of the Internet, the power to hurt people will be far more than speakers imagine. What we need to see is that the network is an open public space, it seems to be just a careless “one person one sentence”, but if multiplied by a huge base, it may become a “wave” that will wash people away. “A kind word keeps you warm in three winters, but a bad word hurts you in six months.” Language has both weight and power, before pressing the send button, each netizen should weigh the weight of the words, so that there are words to say properly, to avoid subjective first, over-expressive expression, do not cause trouble to the work and life of others.
The regulator co-ordinates the planning. Regulate the content of platforms targeting online violence from a legislative perspective. According to the online culture, urge the legislative department and platform supervision to improve the level. At the same time, from the level of social regulation, for cyber violence opposition organizations, different levels of anti-violence activities can also be organized to strengthen people’s awareness of cyber violence.
Finally, I hope that all the cyber violence can disappear. One day the victims can be free from hiding and the bad guys can be truly punished.


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