Women are fighting China’s angry trolls. The trolls win
Feminist social media accounts have been slowly disappearing in China for days. And when that wasn’t enough for their angry critics, a powerful voice on the internet stepped in to help them.
During a discussion on the popular Chinese platform Weibo, one of the critics called for better guidelines on how to file complaints against women who shared feminist views. The user suggested that the company add “incitement to mass confrontation” to the list of violations that could have them removed. A Weibo account long affiliated with the company’s CEO Wang Gaofei joined the conversation to offer advice.
“Here,” the person using the account said on April 14, posting a screenshot with simple instructions for filing a complaint against the women. Under “type of complaint”, click on “incitement to hatred” in the screenshot. Under specific reason: “gender discrimination”.
Women who express feminist views on social media have long been subjected to torrents of hateful comments. In China, not only do these views attract the attention of trolls, but they can also lead to being kicked off platforms by enraged users empowered by unlikely allies: the internet companies themselves.
Several prominent Chinese feminists have had their accounts removed from Weibo in the past two weeks following complaints from the public. According to the women, at least 15 accounts have been deleted. The women say this is part of a growing online campaign to stamp out feminist voices in a country where the government controls the internet and social movements are rapidly curtailed. Two of the women filed lawsuits against Weibo.
“I was speechless,” Liang Xiaowen, an outspoken Chinese feminist, said of the screenshot. Although Mr. Wang’s name is not officially associated with the account, it has been identified as its owner in half a dozen state media reports and one podcast. “He accused me of discrimination on the basis of sex, which is the most laughable thing in the world,” she said.
Ms. Liang, a 28-year-old lawyer in New York City, is one of the women whose accounts were deleted by Weibo. She is suing the company for violating China’s civil code, claiming that she did not sufficiently explain her charges against her.
Women’s accounts began to disappear after March 31. Two days earlier, Xiao Meili, a well-known feminist in China, had left a hot pot restaurant in southwestern Chengdu city, angry that a man had ignored her repeated requests to illegally quit smoking. inside. The man was so angry that he threw a cup of hot liquid at Ms. Xiao and her friends.
Ms. Xiao, 30, then uploaded a video of the incident, prompting a surge of support that quickly sparked a harmful reaction.
That afternoon she was besieged by thousands of hate messages. Users unearthed a 2014 photo of Ms. Xiao holding a poster saying “Pray for Hong Kong” and used it to accuse her of supporting Hong Kong independence. Hours after the photo was posted, Ms. Xiao discovered that her Weibo account had been frozen.
In an April 13 statement, Weibo said four of the deleted accounts posted “illegal and harmful” content and called on users to abide by Weibo’s core principles, which include “do not incite group confrontation and encourage a culture of boycott ”.
In addition to Weibo, Ms. Xiao had her account deleted by another Chinese internet company. None of the companies responded to requests for comment.
“It caused a lot of damage to my mind,” Ms. Xiao said in an interview. “Since March 31, I have been very nervous, angry and depressed.”
Chinese feminists say Weibo has applied a double standard when it comes to controlling abuse against men and women. Weibo blocks the use of phrases like “male national,” a derogatory term for Chinese men. But threats of rape and words like “bitch” are allowed. Zheng Churan, a feminist whose account was also recently deleted, said several of her friends tried to report offensive comments to Weibo but never succeeded.
“It’s really obvious where the platforms are aligned on such issues,” Ms. Zheng said.
The ruling Communist Party in China has long been wary of social activism that could challenge its power and cause instability. In 2015, Chinese authorities arrested Ms. Zheng and four other feminists on charges of “quarreling and causing unrest” ahead of a campaign on sexual harassment on public transport. The detentions sparked an international outcry.
Feminist ideas have slowly entered the mainstream. Many women were encouraged by the small gains of the nascent #MeToo movement in the country. And feminist thought appeals to Chinese women who believe the government is failing to address issues of gender discrimination, said Lu Pin, a veteran New York-based women’s rights activist whose account was also deleted.
There are few opportunities for women in China. “That’s why they go online,” Ms. Lu said.
Weibo has played a central role in helping women find like-minded communities on the internet.
It was on Weibo that the women shared their thoughts on domestic violence, difficulties getting a divorce, and gender discrimination in the workplace. Gender issues are often among the most discussed topics on the platform. But in a culture dominated by men, this has led to resentment.
Many of the most active opponents of China’s growing online feminist discourse have hundreds of thousands of followers. Some are celebrated in state media and allied with a larger nationalist movement that sees any form of criticism as an affront to Beijing. Women are easy targets, facing death threats and accusations of “separatists”.
Douban, an Internet forum and review website, also recently suppressed at least eight groups dedicated to women’s issues, according to China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese Internet controls. Douban declined to comment.
After the hot pot incident, Taobao, an e-commerce site in China, removed 23 items from Ms. Xiao’s online store, claiming they were “prohibited content,” according to a notice viewed by the New York Times. All the articles carried the word “feminist”. Ms. Xiao sued Weibo in a Beijing court on April 14, seeking access to her account and US $ 1,500 (A1 $ 934) in compensation.
After posting his lawsuit on WeChat, China’s ubiquitous instant messaging platform, his public account was deleted for “violation of regulations.”
Ms. Liang, the lawyer, said that she was one of many women inundated with abuse after posting messages of support for Ms. Xiao. She was furious when her Weibo account was frozen because it meant she could no longer defend herself, she said. “It’s the equivalent of shutting your mouth, hanging up and letting yourself burn,” she says.
One of Ms. Liang’s alleged offenses was sharing a post on Twitter by the “Chinese for Uyghurs” group. Her critics have used her to accuse her of being unpatriotic by raising awareness of the plight of the oppressed Muslim minority.
Despite the risks, many women continue to share messages of support for those who have been kicked out of Weibo, Ms. Liang said. She described the platform as “the only open space for me to talk” and said she wanted her account back, even though she knew the same angry users would be waiting for her when she returned.
“I think this space is especially important for young women on the Internet,” she said. “I refuse to give it up to these disgusting people.
By Sui-Lee Wee at The New York Times