Sexism and platform regulation in the online world

Social media bullying. Haters pointing fingers frim monitor at victim, laughing at crying girl. Flat vector illustration for hate, violence, stress, online abuse concept

Since its birth, the Internet has brought many conveniences to people, such as access to a large amount of information, rich entertainment, and communication with others. However, people are also worried that online social networking will harm others, especially vulnerable groups. In fact, online violence can be seen everywhere. On the Internet, people can easily find abuse and attacks on someone for various reasons. There are also more serious situations, such as making other people’s private information public, spreading other people’s private photos and videos, harassing and stalking others. These behaviors cause tremendous psychological pressure on victims of cyberbullying. The leakage of privacy will also affect normal life, even lose one’s job, and personal safety cannot be guaranteed. Many victims became ill and even committed suicide.

Common hate speech on the Internet includes racist speech, sexism, sexual orientation discrimination, disability discrimination, hate speech about political views, religious beliefs, etc. These discriminations and disputes that exist in society are further amplified through the Internet and will have a serious impact on individuals.

This article will use the incident of a Chinese pink-haired female graduate student who suffered online violence and died as an example to focus on hate speech, sexism, online harm and platform supervision on the Internet.

Pink-haired graduate student suffered online harm

On February 19, 2023, a woman who had suffered online violence for half a year was announced by her friends to have committed suicide. It triggered a lot of discussion on the Internet. The cause of the incident was that in July 2022, the Chinese girl Zheng Linghua received the admission notice for graduate school. Then she rushed to the hospital and shared it with her grandfather who was lying in the hospital bed. She also took photos and videos and shared them on different online platforms. At the same time, the accompanying text expresses the joy of being admitted to graduate school and the longing for my grandfather. In the photo, the female graduate student with pink hair is holding the hand of her grandfather on the hospital bed. The posts got a lot of clicks and shares, but then things started to take a turn for the worse.
The photos and videos were then stolen by bloggers on many other platforms. Some accounts steal videos and change them into recruitment promotions for education and training institutions. In this video, the female graduate student becomes a student who has received a college admission notice. This change caters to the stereotype of some netizens that dyed hair means students who do not study well. In China, the college entrance examination is a very important exam, and many better high schools have strict requirements on the dress and appearance of high school students.

The person involved in this incident, Zheng Linghua, immediately complained to various platforms. However, the Douyin platform reported that the complaint failed, and some bloggers who stole pictures also blacklisted him. Her photos and videos continue to be stolen and proliferated online.

Content originally published by Zheng Hualing on the Xiaohongshu platform

Among them, the embezzlement by a blogger on the Baijiahao platform caused serious consequences. The blogger wrote “My Graduate Admission” without explaining the real situation. There were three stolen photos, including the admission notice with Zheng Linghua’s real name. . In the comment section on this platform, there were a lot of malicious comments about the women in the photos. One of the main points of attack was her hair color. Many comments said that serious graduate students would not dye their hair and that this woman was not worthy of being a graduate student. They also maliciously speculated that she was engaged in the porn industry, accompanied by a lot of slut-shaming swear words. I would like to add that in China The porn industry is illegal.
In addition, because the blogger did not explain the true situation when reposting it, many netizens made malicious speculations about the relationship between the young woman and the elderly man in the photo. Some people commented that the woman was being kept by an old man. This woman Marry an old man for money, or the woman is a bartender and the old man is a guest.
The woman’s subsequent post on the Internet to defend her rights triggered further abuse. Some people accused the woman of using her relatives to sensationalize the incident, while other netizens continued to extract the woman’s private information and post it online. After learning that this woman was an education-related major and art student, a new wave of online attacks came against these two identities. For example, some people accused these students of not being normal people and not worthy of being teachers.
Facing a large number of online verbal attacks and real-life harassment, the female graduate student suffered severe psychological damage. Some newspapers reported the situation after learning about the incident. The woman received a lot of sympathy and support, but there are still a lot of offensive remarks. Half a year later, this woman could not bear the online violence and finally committed suicide.

How platforms become the breeding ground for a toxic culture

Massanari and Adrienne (2017) found through research on reddit that certain designs and decisions, as well as underlying assumptions, can permeate an online space with a toxic culture. Toxic culture here refers to regressive ideas about gender, sexual orientation, and race, as well as opposition to diversity and multiculturalism. In addition, Massanari and Adrienne (2017) also pointed out that these toxic technocultures use sociotechnical platforms as channels for harassment and have leaderless characteristics. Many netizens will spontaneously form small groups and use illegal techniques to search for victims’ privacy, just for entertainment.

Similarly, the design of other platforms can affect the atmosphere of a platform. Most platforms today are pursuing clicks and popularity, and popular content will be pushed to more people. In addition, the more popular the content created by the creator, the higher the benefits they can obtain. At the same time, it does not take into account whether the popularity is caused by a large number of approval or disapproval. This will stimulate creators to use various means to create content that can attract audiences and trigger discussions, and even use means such as fabrication, falsification, and blurring of the true situation.

In the case of a pink-haired female graduate student who committed suicide after being bullied online, the repost on the Baijiahao platform triggered a large number of violent comments online. Baijiahao is a comprehensive content creation platform built by Baidu. The platform supports the release of various types of content such as graphics, videos, updates, live broadcasts, photo galleries, etc. It is reported that the main audience on this platform is young people aged 20 to 30 years old. The gender ratio of the audience varies greatly, with men accounting for nearly 70%. Therefore, publishing content that caters to young men will gain popularity. Perhaps this is why the blogger in this incident stole photos of female graduate students and modified the captions.

Internet regulation that fails to prevent harm

Platform supervision is one of the important ways to prevent online harm. Network platforms can regulate user behavior by formulating rules and policies. In addition, content can be reviewed and removed to maintain a good environment. At the same time, a complaint and reporting mechanism is provided to prevent the further deterioration of violations. However, in the case of the pink-haired graduate student mentioned in this article who was bullied online, platform supervision did not play a good role. False information and rumors continue to spread and cause harm to the protagonists
Martin and Damian (2021) point out that historically, the regulation of content published in the public has been mainly through the responsibilities given to content creators and publishers. However, this approach hardly works in the contemporary online world, where the lines between creation and distribution have become blurred. Moreover, the speed at which content is created and published in the online world is very fast, and the number of people publishing it is very large, making it difficult to hold accountable.

In addition, in the study of Massanari and Adrienne (2017), Reddit is unwilling to alienate any audience for the sake of popularity and revenue, which will lead to Reddit being unwilling to deal with some controversial content that can bring popularity. Similarly, in today’s new media era, platform revenue is linked to popularity, so it is very common to condone the existence of harmful information that can bring popularity. In addition, the review of platform content requires manual reviewers and review systems, so the review and processing of platform content will also be affected by the reviewers’ subjective thoughts and code biases. This means platforms may have different standards for handling harmful information targeting different groups.

In addition to the platform’s own review, external review is also an effective review method. However, research by Martin and Damian (2021) found that the effectiveness of external review is more difficult to guarantee.


By studying the example of this female cyberbullying victim, we can see that various forms of violence still exist in today’s cyberspace. Gender-based violence against women that exists in real society will be further amplified online. Among them, the underlying design of the platform and the pursuit of popularity benefits are one of the reasons for the emergence of a toxic cultural atmosphere on the platform. Platform supervision is one of the important ways to prevent online harm. However, in reality, due to the huge number of network participants and the design of the audit system, platform supervision and external supervision cannot play a good role. These current situations will lead to more female victims, hinder women’s public participation, and reduce women’s right to speak

1.Woods, L. (2021). Obliging Platforms to Accept a Duty of Care. In Martin Moore and Damian Tambini (Ed.), Regulating big tech: Policy responses to digital dominance (pp. 93–109).
2.Massanari, A. (2017). Gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society, 19(3), 329-346.
3.Barker, K., & Jurasz, O. (2019). Online misogyny. Journal of International Affairs, 72(2), 95-114

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