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Say No to Cyberbullying

Editor's Note: By the end of 2012, China's Internet population had reached 564 million. If we were to single out all Chinese Internet users to form another country, it would be the world's third most populous nation right after India and the depleted, non-Internet China itself. With the growing liberalization of the Internet, especially the popularization of social media led by micro blogging services, the occurrence of cyberbullying in China is now on the rise. 

Definition: Cyberbullying is the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.  

    Five prominent cases of cyberbullying in China

Say No to CyberbullyingDoodling boy given a lesson

Ding Jinhao, 14, from Nanjing, Jiangsu province become a household name overnight in May after a photo revealing his signature on a Pharaonic cartouche at the Luxor Temple in Egypt went viral on Weibo. His personal information including date-of-birth and primary school address quickly became "human flesh" and was searched out by furious Chinese Internet users who hurled insults at the juvenile, saying his actions shame China. Even his school's website was hacked. Ding's parents had to issue a public apology letter, begging for an end to the overwhelming condemnation which "made their child cry for a whole night." 

Rumors affect judicial procedures

Yao Jiaxin, a 21-year-old student from Xi'an, was known for his intentional homicide triggered by a traffic accident on October 20, 2010. Prior to the trial, Zhang Xian, the plaintiff's lawyer, fabricated a series of online rumors on Yao's wealthy family background, which led to intensive media speculations and, of course, stirred up rage from Internet users, placing pressure on judicial procedures. After Yao's execution in June 2011, his father sued Zhang for reputation infringement and eventually won the case.

Terminology: A "human flesh search" is a primarily Chinese Internet phenomenon of massive researching by using Internet media such as blogs and forums. The term was first used as early as 2006, and is a method that has since been used to publicly humiliate faulty individuals.

Rumor causes woman to lose job

Yan Deli, a 31-year-old from Hebei province, saw her life turned upside down in June 2010 when her ex-boyfriend uploaded naked pictures of her, claiming she was an AIDS-infected prostitute (which was later proved to be a fabrication).

The post also included the phone numbers of 200 "clients" she had allegedly slept with. It was not long before her full name, age, address and telephone number were made available online. Even her family's details were exposed.

Yan lost her job and was afraid to leave home. Her phone was also bombarded with abusive messages and she even received death threats. 

Yan's stepfather, who was accused in the posts of raping her, said he couldn't eat anything hearing the rumors and found it difficult to leave the house.

Shaming parade by Weibo

In mid-April this year a college murder case shook the nation as Lin Senhao, 27, was arrested on suspicion of poisoning his Fudan University medical school roommate Huang Yang.

Following Lin's arrest on April 17, Sina Weibo, China's largest Twitter-like micro blogging service, revealed his account on its trending-topic page (it is unknown how Weibo authorities discovered Lin's account) and tagged "suspect" under the avatar, which drew tens of thousands of bloggers hurling a torrent of scornful abuse on Lin's account.

The legitimacy of Weibo's exposure is questioned by many who think it infringed upon Lin's privacy and his reputation under Chinese laws.

(FYI: the trial hasn't started as of June 21)

Celebrities, be careful what you say

Celebrities are the most common cyberbullying targets, especially when a celebrity says or does something "inappropriate" or goes against popular values. The most prominent case involved Hong Kong actress Hsu Chi, when she posted a message on Weibo supporting Donnie Yen, a Hong Kong-based Kung-fu star who was reportedly in a rift with Vincent Zhao over a film shooting in February, 2012. Cyberbullies rushed to Hsu's Weibo page and attacked her with harsh words that eventually forced her to delete all her Weibo posts and close her account for months.

Vicki Zhao, another famous Chinese actress, was also abused by Internet users last August, while the only thing she did was to post a photo of her vacation shortly after Liu Xiang, China's 110-meter hurdling ace, failed to pass the first-round heat of his group at the 2012 London Olympics.


    Analysis: How does cyberbullying happen?

As stated above, China has such a large Internet population that the even smallest acts of cyberbullying can snowball into a large-scale online crusade, sometimes in such a way that it can eventually get out of control and result in serious consequences for the victims. 



When the majority of Internet users are young people, it could mean they are more likely to express their opinions hastily without giving a second thought to other ideas.

The hostility of Internet bloggers can be attributed to a variety of disgraceful, unjust social phenomena such as government corruption, a soaring real estate market, or individual acts that cross the moral bottom line. In a way, it helps to safeguard social justice and is a sign of civic awareness.

But sometimes the public's sense of justice is plagued by rumors, just as it was with Yao Jiaxin's case, the plaintiff's lawyer took advantage of popular resentment towards the "rich second generation" to spread rumors thus manipulating public opinion in his favor. The electronic forums also lack a media supervision mechanism to filter fake, exaggerated and deliberately provoking messages.

The anonymous characteristics of the Internet and popular mass culture also play a part. Cyberbullies easily avoid punishment by using fake names, e-mails or IP addresses. And the thirst for a sense of presence and entertainment encourages them to take part in online cases. Scenarios become worse when cyberbullies split in two opposing groups, with each side desperately hoping to overpower the other through vulgar means. A real-name registration system on Weibo was launched last year, helping to curb online rumors, yet it hasn't proved to be effective in stopping verbal wars, which is largely due to the last-but-not-least point: legislation.

Legislation against cyberbullying in China is still in its infancy. In the United States, cyberbullying laws and polices have been introduced in a number of states as cyberbullying crimes are increasing, a cyberbullying research website was set up as early as 2005, and a movie titled "Cyberbully" came out in 2011 in hope of arousing wider public awareness of the problem. While in China, laws defining cyberbullying as a crime have yet to be established.

    Rallying cry against cyber violence

Organization calls for cleaner web content

A call for Internet companies to be mindful of the language used when practicing freedom of expression, was issued by the Beijing Internet Association in a statement released on June 17.

The statement said the Internet is plagued by "made-up stories, rumors, slander, profanity, and swearing." It urged Internet users to be civilized in their discourse and rational when making comments online. It also asked them abide by the law, and respect other people's privacy. [more] 


Debate on legitimacy of "human flesh searches"

"Human flesh searches are turning into online lynch mobs," said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Say No to Cyberbullying

"There is no doubt that human flesh searches can have positive effects on supervising authorities. It has exposed dozens of corrupt officials and adulterous affairs. But it is open to abuse and innocent people are seeing their private lives laid bare to the public in the name of revenge," said Qingshan, deputy director of Peking University's Institute of Information.

"Exposing a family's phone number, address, family members' work addresses and names will always hurt them. Even if the person at the center of a human flesh search did something wrong, or has even committed a crime, what crime did their family commit? Why do they need to be punished?" said Zhou Qingshan at Peking University. "

"I believe the majority of netizens abhor evil and injustice, but the practice of using violence to solve violence is not the right way for a civilized society. Human flesh searches could become a very effective network for mutual aid and public supervision if it receives proper guidance" Zhou added.


Cyberbullying in China is blended with a justice-oriented motivation. In fact it has proven to be effective in corruption crackdown campaigns. But still, a line should be drawn between being a blind, impetuous, cynical attacker using a keyboard and a reasonable and well-observed critic. 

                                                                                                Producer: Yan Weijue