How China is using the law to tackle cyberbullying and Internet violence


Beijing can detain or fine for Photoshopping a victim’s image, spreading sex-related rumours or harassing others with insulting text and phone messages. Ministry of Public Security says cyberbullying had been rampant, resulting in some victims killing themselves or becoming mentally ill. — SCMP

Beijing can detain or fine individuals for Photoshopping other people’s pictures, spreading sex-related rumours or harassing others with insulting text messages and phone calls, China’s Ministry of Public Security said on Tuesday as it addressed 10 typical cases of cyberbullying.

The ministry’s statement is the first time China has published a cluster of examples since its directive to define and punish cyberbullying was issued in September.

Beijing’s latest push to crack down on cyberbullying came after some cases caught national attention. The ministry said cyberbullying had been rampant in recent years and some cases had resulted in victims killing themselves or suffering mental illness.

“We have always maintained a ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude and dealt with a number of internet violence cases where individuals slandered others, spread rumours or invaded privacy online,” the ministry said.

In one example, a defendant identified only by the surname Zhang was jailed for six years after he used a positioning device and spyware to harvest a victim’s information and then hired a group online to spread fake videos, pictures and insulting articles about the person. As a result, the victim developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Zhang was detained in January and convicted of invading others’ privacy, picking quarrels and provoking trouble and intentional injury. Picking quarrels and provoking trouble is a criminal offence that could lead to up to 10 years in jail under Chinese law.

In other cases, individuals were detained after spreading rumours that a victim’s wife “had an affair” and a teacher was harassed by her superior.

Being hired to defame others is also not tolerated. In two cases, individuals were hired by others to expose victims’ private information online, send insulting text messages and mail paper money and other funeral items to the victims. Local police detained the hired perpetrators, according to the ministry.

In September, China’s top three legal bodies – the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate and Ministry of Public Security – jointly issued a directive on cyberbullying.

The document clarified how online violence may be punished under various existing laws, specifically stressing bullying against minors and people with disabilities, the deployment of paid posters, spreading sex-related rumours, the use of deepfake technology and cyberbullying organised by websites.

China does not have a law against online violence, and there have been calls to strengthen regulations to crack down on such abuse.

In recent years, cyberbullying has become more rampant and is subject to trends. This year has seen a new “box-opening” movement surface in which a victim’s telephone number, ID number, address, photo and even hotel check-in information is publicly displayed online.

Some instances of cyberbullying have led to serious outcomes. In February, a 23-year-old woman killed herself after battling depression for months over being cyberbullied for her pink-dyed hair.

Last year, a 17-year-old boy, Liu Xuezhou, took his own life after being cyberbullied for more than a year. Liu was abducted at birth and spent years looking for his biological parents. When he found them, he met rumours that he had only wanted a house from his parents and was trying to gain sympathy.

Liu’s adoptive family sued two influencers this year and the case is still being processed. – South China Morning Post

Those suffering from problems can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service at 03-2935 9935 or 014-322 3392; Talian Kasih at 15999 or 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp; Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre at 0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp; and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur at 03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my.

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