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Time to stop online violence hurting people in real world

By Qiao Xinsheng | | Updated: 2022-06-14 12:06
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A video screen capture from Sina Weibo shows several men beat up female customers in a restaurant in Tangshan, North China's Hebei province on Friday.

In the age of the internet, it's easy to be a "judge", for one just has to point the finger at another person to label him or her guilty.

Many netizens have condemned the owner of barbecue restaurant for failing to protect the women victims of a latest assault — which took place in the early hours of Friday in Tangshan, Hebei province. So fierce were the criticisms that the restaurant owner had to clarify through a video that she had asked her staff to report the matter to police, and she had tried to make the rioters, all men, to see reason but couldn't hold them back because she is nearly 60 years old.

The incident and the restaurant owner's clarification should prompt people not to jump to easy conclusions, and use their "virtual court" to condemn a person without weighing the pros and cons of an issue.

In fact, the use of the internet (especially Twitter-like social media platforms such as Weibo) to launch personal attacks against other people has ended up in tragedy in the past, with some of the targeted people even committing suicide to end their agony.

One such tragedy occurred in April.

A girl in Shanghai paid an extra 200 yuan ($30) as a token of her gratitude for a courier service employee who helped her father during the lockdown, which was implemented to contain the resurgence of the novel coronavirus. But claiming that the amount was too small to show her gratitude for what the deliveryman had done for her father, some netizens launched a scathing attack on the girl for being mean and miserly.

Unable to bear the humiliation, the girl jumped from her apartment block and died.

While many internet users raise pertinent issues through social media platforms and rightly criticize people and organizations for failing to fulfill their due responsibilities, there are some who vent their frustration and anger on others even though those they target are not the source or cause of their frustration and anger. The latter group, by resorting to such acts, cause serious damage to others.

There is a need therefore to further strengthen the supervision of networks and more strictly monitor network platform operators to ensure they fulfill all their responsibilities, safeguard the interests of users, especially those targeted by trolls, and delete all illegal information and posts from their platforms.

Usually, trolls disclose the personal information of the people they target, thereby infringing on the latter's privacy. They collect such information using various means. Ashamed of their private matters being made public, or unable to bear the humiliation of being insulted publicly, some of the targeted people have committed, or tried to commit, suicide.

A few netizens also use social media platforms to target people with whom they have disputes or serious differences in real life.

So, compelling social media platform operators to fulfill their legal responsibilities and meet all the social requirements is the key to addressing the problem. Social media platforms must be fully aware that the disclosure of any information that constitutes a personal attack, whether involving a few people or a group of people, must be taken seriously and dealt with in a timely manner.

If a netizen launches a personal attack against another person or a group, no matter what the reason, the social media platform operator must deal with it as soon as possible because it violates the basic rights of citizens. Network platform operators should fulfill all their statutory duties and protect the legitimate rights and interests of users in accordance with the law and bear joint liability in case of personal loss or injury.

Netizens are free to air their opinions, but they should not violate laws and defame others at will. In fact, they can be sued for libel for doing so.

It is very important to make sure the legitimate rights and interests of all netizens are protected. It's really high time to stop online violence from hurting people in real world.

The author is a professor of law at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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