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Battling the Keyboard Warriors: How China’s Netizens Address Online Harassment

Incidents of online harassment against women continue to rise year on year across the world, with severe cases in the PRC and abroad. What’s on Weibo’s Cat Hanson, who has personally experienced online stalking in China, explores how cyber-bullying is gradually receiving more awareness – although the Chinese laws are lagging behind.

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Incidents of online harassment against women continue to rise year on year across the world, with severe cases in the PRC and abroad. What’s on Weibo’s Cat Hanson, who has personally experienced online stalking in China, explores how cyber-bullying is gradually receiving more awareness – although the Chinese laws are lagging behind.

In the summer of 2016, romantic comedy So I Married my Anti-Fan (所以…和黑粉结婚了) released in theaters across China. Actress Yuan Shanshan (袁姗姗) starred as a scorned journalist who unleashes an online campaign against a Korean pop idol (Park Chanyeol). In the movie, Yuan’s character spends hours leaving insulting comments about the star in her crosshairs, giggling with glee as she argues with his diehard fans.

The role wasn’t entirely fiction for Yuan, who in 2013 became the target of a deluge of online abuse on China’s Sina Weibo.

The actress shared her experience during a TEDx presentation in Ningbo two years later, describing her shock of waking up to thousands of comments and posts criticizing her acting: “Before 2013, I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that I’d become the internet’s troll-fodder,” she said.

Actress Yuan Shanshan addresses cyber bullying during a Ted Talk.

Yuan was not alone. In late 2016, Chinese women’s rights group Chilli Pepper (尖椒部落) published figures obtained from their survey on online harassment, also known in Mandarin as wangluobaoli (网络暴力 – a homonym of ‘online violence’ and ‘online bully’).

The report aimed to show that “Internet harassment is another form of violence.” According to the data, the majority of respondents were female students who had encountered online harassment in the past.

 

IDEAS ON ‘ONLINE VIOLENCE’ IN CHINA

“Chinese websites tend to blame young people’s ‘impulsive’ and ‘ignorant’ behaviour for the rise in online harassment.”

 

Discourse on China’s online violence has usually revolved around infamous ‘human flesh searches’ (人肉搜索), a term used to describe the activities of the wangluo baomin (网络暴民 ‘internet mob’) who seek out and share the personal information of people involved in public scandals.

The so-called ‘human flesh search’ is a collective effort of netizens to find out details about their online target.

Due to the internet’s comparatively youthful demographic and the aggressive nature of these search campaigns, Chinese Wikipedia-style websites tend to blame young people’s ‘impulsive’ and ‘ignorant’ behaviour for the rise in online harassment.

In contrast, the majority of Chilli Pepper’s survey respondents reported a style of online harassment beyond ‘human flesh searches.’ They also believe the issue is rooted in gender discrimination.

Given the varying opinions between online women’s groups and encyclopedic websites, it begs the question as to whether online platforms like Weibo are becoming a discursive space for issues of gender, abuse, and harassment.

 

GLOBAL ONLINE VIOLENCE

“Online misogyny is a global tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends.”

 

The online harassment of young women is not unique to China. Writing for The Guardian, Elle Hunt reported that over three-quarters of women reporting harassment were under 30 years old, according to Australian research.

In 2016, American actress and activist Ashley Judd delivered a TED Talk claiming: “Online misogyny is a global tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends.” The talk was internationally praised and shared on multiple social networking sites including Weibo.

The mechanisms of online violence in Australia and America were consistent with Chilli Pepper’s findings in China; harassment, hyper-sexualised comments, and attacks on appearance. The LGBT community are also regularly targeted worldwide with homophobic and transphobic online attacks.

Other factors such as money, crime, and morality are less likely to be the subject of harassment, despite being the main focus of human flesh searches. This suggests that a form of online violence exists outside of these searches, in contrast with online definitions.

 

“How many deaths before you’re satisfied?”

 

Incidents of online harassment against women continue to rise year on year across the world, with severe cases in China and abroad.

In June 2016, a man named as ‘Aidyn C’ was ordered to stand trial in the Netherlands for ‘extortion, internet luring and child pornography’ after the death of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd. The teenager posted a video to YouTube about her online harasser shortly before taking her own life. The case sent shockwaves throughout Canada and the world, leading to calls for stronger laws to combat online harassment.

In China, the death of Chinese singer Qiao Renliang (乔任梁) was also followed by public outcry over online violence. The television actor and singer committed suicide in November 2016 at the age of 28. Qiao’s death was officially attributed to depression, although many netizens blamed the online abuse that stars such as Qiao and actress Yuan Shanshan receive on a daily basis.

Qiao’s death was officially attributed to depression, but many netizens blamed online abuse.

In a critical post addressed to online anti-fans, Weibo user @Lun­_少女依 wrote: “How many deaths before you’re satisfied?”

Qiao Renliang’s death has never been officially connected to online harassment.

 

THE VULNERABLE ONES

“A high number of children aged 8-17 in China have undergone negative experiences online, ranking first among 25 countries.”

 

Despite evidence that young women and public figures are most vulnerable to online harassment, figures obtained by Microsoft in 2012 show that a disproportionately high number of children aged 8-17 in China have undergone ‘negative experiences’ over the internet, ranking first among 25 countries.

Some netizens dispute the reliability of these research projects. After China ranked 8th in internet civility in another study by Microsoft, a netizen wrote: “The software is still in the early stages. The words they search for [in these studies] are only one part of the Chinese language; there are still loads of other words created by internet users.”*

However, China ranked above average for education and formal school policies about online bullying, with almost half of the children surveyed having been made aware of online risks and ‘manners’ by their parents.

Microsoft believes that China demonstrates a high awareness of online bullying, however preventative and punitive measures are yet to receive legislative support.

*(Chinese netizens often create new ways to circumvent censorship or have an own online language. A famous example is the 3-character phrase ‘cao ni ma’ (草泥马), literally meaning ‘grass mud horse’, but pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother”, which is written with three different characters. Netizens can thus say ‘f*ck you’ without this being picked up as such by software).

 

TACKLING ONLINE VIOLENCE

“I’m sorry for what I said about you.”

 

For Yuan Shanshan, the online and media abuse became so overwhelming that she was compelled to take action. Yuan eventually devised a campaign called”“Loving Criticism” (爱的骂骂). Phonetically similar to the phrase “a mother’s love,” Yuan pledged to donate 0.5 RMB to a children’s charity for every comment she received.

After twenty-four hours, she had raised over 50,000 RMB (±7270$). Across her Weibo a similar message was echoed hundreds of times: “I’m sorry for what I said about you.”

Yuan concluded her talk by mentioning the risk of suicide for the victims of online harassment. The actress advised young people to step away from the screens and find support via family, friends, and exercise.

Meanwhile, respondents to Chilli Pepper’s survey were asked for the best methods of combating online harassment. Ranking above answers such as ‘blocking the offender’ or confronting them with the same tactics, the majority favored reporting the harassment to social media platforms or the police. However, the legal parameters of online violence remain open to interpretation.

 

ONLINE VIOLENCE & CHINESE LAW

“The police suggested that I confront the harasser myself.”

 

Global laws on internet harassment are often unclear, although attitudes are changing. In 2016 while living in China, I reported an incident of online harassment by a local man to police. The cyber-stalking campaign of abuse and hyper-sexualised messages had lasted almost nine months. With no way to identify him other than several social media accounts, a legal channel seemed difficult to pursue.

After reviewing the messages, local police were sympathetic. However, the abuser had stopped short of directly threatening my life, which would have been a clear crime under law. It was later suggested that I confront the harasser myself. Knowing the abuser ranked collecting pen knives and pellet guns amongst his main hobbies, I maintained radio silence until the abuser went away.

Perpetrators of online violence are by no means immune to prosecution, and they can be prosecuted under existing laws both in China and around the world. In 2014, the South China Morning Post reported the arrest of a 20-year-old man in Hong Kong for posting violent death threats to an online forum regarding the daughter of a police officer.

Other nations in the region have been forced to amend existing laws to cover online crime. For example, Japan added online communications to the legal definition of stalking after the murder of two women. Gota Tsutsui sent malicious emails to one of the women before stabbing them to death in 2011.

In 2015 India also convicted a man for cyber-stalking in a case considered to be a first in the country. The BBC reported similar attitudes from the Indian police to those in the case in Hong Kong and my own in mainland China – a focus on finding evidence of physical threats sent via the internet rather than sexual harassment and stalking. It seems that like many countries, China is undergoing a transformative period in its legal recognition of online violence.

 

THE ROLE OF WEIBO

“Netizens should not give online violence a chance to flourish.”

 

Despite China reforming sexual harassment laws in real public spaces, the topic can still be considered taboo. However on Weibo, some netizens have taken to exposing or confronting their abusers, sharing articles and engaging in discussion. Internet anonymity apparently works both ways – masking the perpetrators of online violence, but also encouraging the abused party to bypass social taboos, speak frankly about their experiences, and generate conversation over the issue.

“Insulting people on the internet is against the law and lacking in education. Everyone should be civilized and respect one another. If you see these ‘keyboard warriors’ and ‘flamers’, report them to the police!”, was one comment among many.

Netizens not only feel empowered to call out online violence on Weibo, but also to propose solutions and changes to the law. A video of famed public speaker Wang Fan presenting her thoughts on the issues received thousands of re-blogs and comments:

“I suggest implementing a system that identifies internet users, such as needing your ID number to set up a Weibo account,” said one user.

“You can’t force people into having a good moral character, but you can emphasize the importance of having a good moral character” (source).

“If the big microbloggers get threatened, they can call the police to sort it out. What about us regular folk?” (source).

“I wish the police could sort out these ‘keyboard warriors’, these internet bullies who curse others as soon as they open their mouths – I’ve gathered all the evidence…The People’s Daily said earlier: ‘Keyboard warriors are not outside of the law!'” (source).

While debate over the need for clarity in online violence laws is ongoing, discourse continues to grow on Weibo. There are also indications that netizens aren’t the only ones who use the platform to raise awareness of the pressing nature of the issue, or even to link online violence with gender.

Earlier this year, the Weibo account for the Centre of the Chinese Communist Youth League posted a full copy of women’s rights under Chinese law, finally adding: “Netizens should maintain rationality, post positively, and not give online violence a chance to flourish.”

By Cat Hanson

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Cat Hanson is a U.K. graduate of Chinese Studies now teaching and living in China. She swapped Beijing for Anhui, and runs her own blog on China life: Putong Press.

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China Insight

From Hong Kong Protests to ‘Bright Future’ – The Top 3 Most Popular Posts on Weibo This Week

These are the most-read posts on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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The three most-read posts on Weibo over the past week – an overview by What’s on Weibo.

The protests in Hong Kong have been dominating Chinese social media throughout August, and the past week has been no different. Two out of three most-read posts on Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, were about Hong Kong this week.

A wrap-up:

 

#1 Hundreds of Hong Kong Taxi’s Flying Chinese National Flag

Image shared by CCTV on their Weibo account.

While Hong Kong is gearing up for the 13th consecutive weekend of mass anti-government demonstrations, there are no signs of the protests fizzling out any time soon.

The Hong Kong protests started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China, and have intensified over the past weeks.

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic, the Hong Kong demonstrations have been dominating the trending streams on China’s popular social media platforms for all of August.

Through videos, online posters, and slogans, Chinese state media have propagated a clear narrative on the situation in Hong Kong; namely that a group of “separatists” or “bandits” are to blame for the riots that aim to “damage public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

News outlets such as People’s Daily and CCTV are sharing many stories that emphasize the One China principle and praise the Hong Kong police force. Those voices in Hong Kong speaking up for the police force and condemning protesters using violence have been amplified in Chinese media.

One story that became the number one trending post on Weibo this week is that of dozens of Hong Kong taxi drivers hanging the Chinese national flag from their cars (video).

On August 23, the taxi drivers reportedly formed a rally against violence at Tsim Sha Tsui, waving the flags and putting up signs saying “I love HK, I love China.”

The hashtag “500 Hong Kong Taxi’s Hanging up Chinese National Flags” (#香港500辆的士挂上国旗#), hosted by CCTV, attracted over 700 million views on Weibo. The CCTV post reporting on the event received over half a million likes and 47000 shares.

The commenters mostly praise the Hong Kong taxi drivers for “standing up for Hong Kong” and flying the Chinese flag.

In English-language media, it has mostly been Chinese state media reporting on the rally. Xinhua, Women of China, ECNS, and Global Times all reported on the August 23 peace rally.

CNN only shortly reported how “a number of taxis have been spotted driving around the city displaying Chinese flags — something that has not happened on this scale during previous protests” (link).

 

#2 ‘Bright Future’ Title Song for Upcoming Movie ‘The Moon Remembers All’

Over 266.000 Weibo users have been sharing a post by Chinese actor Li Xian (李现) on the title track for the new Chinese movie The Moon Remembers All or River on a Spring Night (Chinese title: 春江花月夜).

The upcoming movie itself is a very popular topic on Weibo recently, attracting 430 million views on its hashtag page alone. The movie just finished shooting and will be released in 2020.

The song titled “Bright Future” (前程似锦) is sung by Taiwanese singer Chen Linong (陈立农) and Li Xian, who are both the leading actors in the fantasy movie. The song was released on August 29.

The Moon Remembers All is produced by Edko Films and directed by Song Haolin (宋灏霖), also known for Mr. Zhu’s Summer (2017) and Fatal Love (2016).

 

#3 Interview with Hong Kong Pro-Beijing LegCo Member Junius Ho

The third most popular Weibo post of this week comes from Xia Kedao (侠客岛), a popular commentator account for the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, and concerns a live broadcasted interview with Hong Kong lawmaker and Legislative Council (LegCo) member Junius Kwan-yiu Ho.

Junius Ho (何君尧) is known as being ‘pro-Beijing’ and stirred controversy earlier this summer when a viral video showed him shaking hands with men wearing white T-shirts who allegedly were linked to the mob attacking people at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.

Xia Kedao describes Junius Ho as a “straightforward” politician who “speaks out for justice” and denounces “reactionaries.”

In the August 28 interview, that was live-streamed on Sina Weibo and later also written up, the Hong Kong legislator discussed the background of the protests.

Ho argues that the people with “ulterior motives” used the extradition bill for their own power struggle, distorting and exaggerating the facts behind the regulation.

The politician also partly links the protests to a “weak national consciousness” in Hong Kong due to its education curriculum and says that there have not been enough legal consequences for those participating in illegal activities and riots.

Thousands of commenters on Weibo write that they appreciate Ho for speaking out against the “pro-independence riot youth” and praise him for his “deep understanding” of mainland China.

By now, Junius Ho, who is also active on Weibo with his own account, has gathered more than half a million fans on his page.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Exchange Student to Be Deported from China for Harassing Young Woman at University

An exchange student studying at the Hebei University of Engineering has been expelled and will soon be deported after harassing a female student.

Manya Koetse

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An exchange student from Pakistan who was studying at the Hebei University of Engineering (河北工程大学) has been expelled and detained after harassing a female student at the same university.

The incident, that is attracting much attention on Chinese social media this week, adds to the wave of recent controversies over the behavior and status of overseas students in mainland China.

On July 31, a female student at the Hebei university filed a police report against a Pakistani student who allegedly harassed her and attempted to forcefully kiss her and touch her breasts.

Screenshots of a supposed WeChat conversation between the exchange student and the female student, in which the man apologizes and claims the interaction is a “requirement for friendship,” are being shared on social media.

According to various reports, the police initially tried to mediate between the two students, which the female student refused.

Together with the school principal, the police then further investigated the case and found ample evidence of harassment after examining the university’s surveillance system.

On August 1st, the Hebei University of Engineering announced that they had expelled the student and that he will be deported from China. The announcement received more than 14,000 reactions and 150,000 ‘likes’ on Weibo.

The student is now detained at the local Public Security Bureau and is awaiting his deportation.

A photo of two officers together with a man in front of the detention center in Handan is circulating on social media in relation to this incident.

At time of writing, the hashtag page “Exchange Student to Be Deported after Molesting Female Student” (#留学生猥亵女学生将被遣送出境#) has been viewed over 310 million times on Weibo.

Among thousands of reactions, there are many who praise the Hebei university for supporting the female student after she reported the exchange student to the police.

“This may not be the best university, but at least they stand behind their students!”, some say, with others calling the university “awesome.”

Many say that the Hebei university should serve as an example for other Chinese universities to follow, with Shandong University being specifically mentioned by Weibo users.

Shandong University was widely criticized earlier this summer for its “buddy exchange program,” which was accused of being a way to arrange Chinese “girlfriends” for male foreign students.

Another incident that is mentioned in relation to this trending story is that of an exchange student who displayed aggressive behavior towards a Chinese police officer in July of this year. The student was not punished for his actions, which sparked anger on Chinese social media.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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