Scourge of online violence must be stopped
Rumors about what caused the death of Qiao Renliang, a widely known 28-yearold singer and actor, finally died down, after his company announced that he was suffering from depression, implying that that was the cause of his death. Qiao’s funeral will be held soon, yet his death has taught us some lessons about online violence and the social and economic damage it can cause.
After the Tianjin blast on Aug 12, 2015, Qiao posted a message on his blog, saying no more firefighters need to rush to the site. But some people misinterpreted his message and accused him of being indifferent to the sacrifice of the brave firefighters who died trying to control the blaze.
Humiliating and threatening messages flooded his blog. The incessant volleys of insults and invectives pushed him into depression, although later he donated 1 million yuan ($149,900) to the families of the firefighters. The continuous online bullying had a grave effect on Qiao’s health; it even hindered his career.
That online violence against Qiao continues is lamentable and despicable. Even after his death, some netizens hinted that the cause of Qiao’s death was his “extreme sexual experiences”. Such rumors stopped only after other netizens requested their aggressive and violent counterparts to show some respect for the dead.
Those people who spread the rumor about the cause of Qiao’s death are rather smart because they did not conclude anything, but the devil is in the “detail” and can be easily decoded by short message users. Even if some day Qiao’s family is able to identify the rumormongers and sue them in court, they can easily escape punishment by saying their online posts did not conclude anything.
According to the criminal law, if someone is found guilty of spreading rumors and destabilizing the social order, he/she could face imprisonment of three to seven years. But in a minor case, the rumormonger would only need to apologize and pay a fine of up to only 500 yuan.
On Sept 6, police detained seven real estate agents for spreading rumors that the Shanghai city authorities are set to change property market rules, which would treat couples divorced within one year as part of one family and they would have to pay higher down payment to buy a second house. This prompted many couples, from those married for decades to newlyweds, to seek divorce after registering their existing houses in the name of one of them so that the other could purchase a second at a lower down payment. Police said the realty agents were detained because they had “disturbed the normal economic order”.
But the authorities need to take stricter measures to curb online violence and rumors, because such acts infringe on individuals’ rights, too.