Administrative and technological means needed to better combat abuse online
More administrative and technological measures need to be taken to help combat and prevent cyberbullying, as it is not easy for perpetrators to be held liable in practice, legal experts said.
They also called for internet platforms to rapidly recognize abusive comments through advanced technologies and quickly provide users experiencing online bullying with channels to block the attackers, suggesting cyberspace agencies increase supervision and give heavier punishments to perpetrators.
Their advice came after a recent tragedy in which a mother in Wuhan, Hubei province, took her own life after the death of her son who had been hit by a car while at primary school.
In the wake of the tragedy, a video of the mother speaking about her child's death was posted online. Some viewers of the video left hurtful comments about the look of the mother, saying that despite grieving she still had time to do her makeup.
It is not suggested that these comments were a major contributor to the woman's death, but during the fragile time of grieving they wouldn't have helped. The tragic events and the comments surrounding them have aroused massive public outrage, and legal experts have highlighted the difficulty of legislation when it comes to comments online and matters of expression.
"Cyberbullying is not a legal term in our country, and so the articles about the issue in our current laws are vague," said Zhao Li, a lawyer at Beijing Jingsh Law Firm.
"In other words, attackers cannot be charged with the crime of online bullying. In practice, they would be accused of insulting or slandering others, or falsifying and spreading personal information about other people," he added.
However, it is difficult to punish those attackers, "as it's a big challenge for victims to affix evidence of offensive comments that can be forwarded a large number of times in a short period, and it's also not an easy job for law enforcement agencies to calculate the severity of such bullying", he explained.
Zheng Ning, head of the law department at Communication University of China's Cultural Industries Management School, echoed Li's comments, adding that many victims are reluctant to even speak out against attackers after considering time-consuming litigation and the difficulty in collecting evidence.
"Although the country requires real-identity registration for all online platforms and has ordered internet operators to mark users' IP addresses, it's still not practical for victims experiencing cyberbullying to initiate a civil lawsuit against every attacker or to call the police to capture them, as the efforts to protect other rights are too high," said Zhao Zhanling, a lawyer at Beijing Yunjia Law Firm.
The three professionals have closely followed China's measures in the fight against online bullying in recent years, including the idea of formulating a specialized law to solve the problem.
In March, Li Dongsheng, a deputy to the 14th National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, submitted a suggestion about making a specialized law to deal with cyberbullying, as improper online behaviors have allegedly led to frequent tragedies nationwide.
Compared with legislation that costs much more time, Zhao Li said that more flexible regulations against cyberbullying, a quicker response to victims and harsher administrative punishments for attackers are more needed and practical. "For instance, cyberspace departments should strengthen supervision of online platforms, ordering internet operators to close attackers' accounts or block their posts or views as quickly as possible," he suggested.
Zheng said that more technical measures are also needed to help separate victims from attackers, calling for more volunteers to provide psychological aid for those suffering from online bullying.
Even though it is difficult to face the pressure caused by cyberbullying and initiate lawsuits against the attackers, Zhao Zhanling still encouraged victims to be brave to protect their rights through litigation, suggesting legal institutes offer services for the group.