Leaten last month, an “unknown hill in the chinese desert” was covered with dozens of large red and white banners, flapping vitriol in the breeze. “I hope you die, bitch,” said one of them. “Little bitch, fuck the feminists,” said the others.
These were all real messages sent to women, a direct act of harassment anonymized by social media. They were sent through weeks of intense debates over the treatment of women on platforms such as Weibo, sparked by the abuse of Xiao Meili who posted a video of a man who threw hot liquid at her after she told him. asked to quit smoking.
After collecting more than 1,000 abusive messages sent to feminists and feminist groups, a group of young female artists stuck them on a hill, creating a temporary “Internet violence museum”.
“When the Xiao Meili incident happened, a lot of feminists were being hunted down, including myself,” said one of the artists, Yaqing, who declined to use her real name. “We wanted to make the trolling words something that can be seen, touched, materialize the trolling comments and amplify the abuse of what is happening to people online. “
Much of the abuse has been motivated by growing nationalist fervor, with people criticizing or drawing attention to human rights issues in China becoming the target of massive online stacks, or worse.
Some women who have put themselves in the public eye to draw attention to human rights issues such as abuses in Xinjiang have been targeted with fake nude photos, threats, accusations of being traitors, separatists and paid actors, and harassment of family members. The attacks come from ordinary citizens online as well as government officials and state media.
“I was lynched in the Chinese media,” Chinese-Australian researcher Vicky Xu said in April. “Along with many of my peers who study Xinjiang.”
Xu said a report she produced with colleagues at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which involved more than 80 international brands in forced labor, prompted the Chinese government to “go on the offensive.”
She has become a trending topic on Weibo, with a story clicked over 9.2 million times calling her a demon and a traitor to the race. In an article titled “Bewitched Vicky Xu Who Makes Xinjiang History Stokes Anti-Chinese Sentiment in Australia: Observer,” the state media tabloid of the Global Times said Xu was endangering the Chinese in Australia.
Fake nude images of Xu have circulated online, his past relationships have been dissected and dissected to shame him, and his family and contacts in China have been harassed, detained and interrogated – a charge echoed by most of the women to whom the Guardian spoke for this article.
A WeChat article that published some of the most offensive claims about Xu later published another successful article about Australian broadcaster Cheng Lei and Chinese journalists Haze Fan, who were arrested in China on suspicion of security. national undefined.
“Whenever nationalist sentiment is high, a woman is cyberbullied, from Fang Fang to Tzu-i Chuang, from Vicky Xu to Xiao Meili,” said reporter Shen Lu on Twitter. “Chinese women of ethnic origin are considered property of the state; whenever they are deemed to have strayed from patriarchal values, they are damned.
In response to waves of harassment against feminists who defended Xiao, Weibo closed about 20 accounts, all of which belonged to the victims. Sina Weibo said the pages were closed for posting “illegal and harmful information.” At least one of the women is suing.
Pushed by state media
A study by Taiwanese research group Doublethink Labs traced online attacks against Chuang Tzu-i, the wife of the former US consul general in Chengdu. He found that he was largely motivated by reports in state media such as the Global Times which were picked up by other government-controlled media outlets in the following days, and “amplified the attention of users. patriotic campaign of Weibo and major influencers ”.
The organization said it found two main motivations behind influential accounts fueling the stacks: profit and ideology. “You see state actors targeting a specific incident or narrative that could help spread their nationalist ideology.”
A sociologist professor at Fudan University, who declined to be named, said it was not clear whether the accounts were being targeted or closed under official direction or not, but “it is clear that there are no social platforms in China favorable to women and women’s rights. Questions “.
He said the politically tinged targeting was linked to both the rapid changes in China’s online environment and the growing commercialization of the need for Chinese media traffic.
On the reception side, motivation does not matter. Many women the Guardian spoke to refused to appear on the case, fearing retaliation or escalating online abuse. One said the attacks on her appeared to be coordinated, or at least motivated by a particular group of individuals with a large online presence, who quickly organized themselves to target her family and friends as well.
Xu chooses to draw strength from it.
“Before this saga, I think few people on Weibo spent a lot of time thinking about Uyghurs or forced labor,” she said in April. “I get so much hate because people felt righteous – imagine if they had access to more information on the plight of the Uyghurs.”
Yaqing said she hoped people saw the artwork and thought about the treatment of women, and that other women could take some comfort from it. But it took its toll.
“We found almost 1,000 comments and we didn’t use them all. But now looking back I don’t want to go back over the files. You feel overwhelmed and your heart is beating very fast. “