A while ago, the death of a young lady shocked millions, as she ended her own life as a victim of cyber violence. The rampant violation of individual rights in cyber space must be contained with no delay.
Zheng Linghua, a 24-year-old graduate student in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, one day in July, 2022, gleefully went to share with her 84-year-old grandfather who was in hospital the happy news that she was admitted to East China Normal University. She took a photo of herself with her grandpa in bed and posted it on social media as a memento. If there was anything “special” that day, it was that her hair was dyed pink; it’s normal that young women love conspicuous colors.
Yet an ordinary sharing of daily life unexpectedly turned into a mob attack the following day. To her horror, she found her photo had been stolen and spread on various platforms, along with a sea of insulting comments. Simply because of her pink hair, internet trolls defamed the innocent girl with terms such as “red hair monster,” “goblin,” “nightclub dancer,” and “slut.” Some even vilified her sick grandfather.
The malicious unprovoked attack astounded Zheng, and she was haunted with panic and depression. She had tried to collect evidence to give the violators due punishment through legal means.
But she didn’t live to see justice done, as she committed suicide after a long struggle with depression triggered by the online attacks on Jan. 23. Her death left many heartbroken and furious. She was the latest victim of the longstanding and unchecked online violence.
Online violence may not be as obvious or as sensational as real-world physical violence, but can be as harmful, if not more devastating, because violence perpetrators in the real world can be arrested, tried and punished if found guilty, but online offenders are more difficult to nail down and convict. When a big mob starts random attacks online, it would be exhausting for the victim to find out the real perpetrators behind the anonymous avatars, take evidence and file complaints with the social media platforms and the police.
The virtual anarchy doesn’t help either. A polite, reasonable person in the real world may become vulgar, abusive and radical online, indulging in a “freedom” brought by anonymity.
Even if a perpetrator is caught and punished, the psychological damage to the victim has already been done. Social media platforms usually monitor rule-violation posts through key-word screening. So, there is no way to censor and preempt contents that attack someone with distorted facts or fabricated stories. In Zheng’s case, online mobs slandered her at will.
Cyber violence has drawn much attention. Li Dongsheng, a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and chairman of TCL Corp., said he would propose an anti-cyber violence law at the ongoing 14th National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Given the nature of the internet and complexities of the governance of the virtual world, it will take time and effort to address this issue. Let’s act now.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer)