China unveils new measures to curb online harassment

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28th November 2023 – (Beijing) China’s Ministry of Public Security announced on Tuesday that individuals found guilty of manipulating other people’s photographs, circulating sexual rumours, or harassing individuals with offensive text messages and calls could now face detention or fines. The Ministry underscored its commitment to tackling online harassment by detailing ten typical instances of cyberbullying, marking the first time the government has shared such examples following the issue of a directive to define and penalise cyberbullying in September.

The Chinese government’s renewed efforts to clamp down on cyberbullying come in the wake of several high-profile cases that have stirred national outrage. The Ministry acknowledged the escalating prevalence of cyberbullying in recent years, citing instances that have resulted in victims taking their own lives or suffering from mental illness.

The Ministry stated, “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.”

In one cited case, an individual referred to only as Zhang was sentenced to six years in prison for using a positioning device and spyware to acquire a victim’s personal information. Zhang subsequently enlisted an online group to disseminate counterfeit videos, photographs, and defamatory articles about the victim, causing the individual to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Zhang was apprehended in January and found guilty of invading others’ privacy, instigating disputes, provoking trouble, and causing intentional harm. Under Chinese law, inciting quarrels and causing problems is a criminal offence that could result in up to ten years of imprisonment.

Additionally, the Ministry revealed other cases where individuals were detained for spreading rumours implying a victim’s wife was unfaithful and a teacher was harassed by a superior.

The government’s intolerance extends to those hired to malign others. In two instances, individuals were contracted to divulge victims’ private information online, send derogatory text messages, and mail funeral items to the victims. Local police detained the hired culprits, according to the Ministry.

In September, China’s top three legal bodies – the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security – jointly issued a directive on cyberbullying. The directive clarified how online violence could be punished under various existing laws, with particular emphasis on bullying against minors and people with disabilities, the use of paid posters, the spread of sex-related rumours, the employment of deepfake technology, and website-organised cyberbullying.