In China, online trolls are taking a toll

Zheng Linghua passed just six months after publishing a photograph on Chinese social media celebrating her acceptance to graduate school with her ailing grandfather.

The 23- year old announced to the world that she had been accepted to study music at East China Normal University by posting a picture of herself on Xiaohongshu. She sported pink hair and was visibly ecstatic.

She mentioned on a social media platform that her grandfather had always been her pillar of support and that one of the reasons she applied to graduate school was so that her grandfather could be proud of her when she was accepted. However, her joy was short-lived. People soon started to bully her online. False and frequently offensive captions were appended to her image. She was subsequently subjected to constant mockery, with some referring to her as a "nightclub girl" and an "evil spirit."

It is unknown how Zheng died, but a friend of hers posted the following on Xiaohongshu last month: "On January 23, 2023, Zheng Linghua passed away due to online and school-based bullying." Cyberbullying occurs everywhere, but China's collectivist mentality and the absence of pressure on social media corporations to eliminate abuse give the epidemic an unique impetus.

A survey of more than 2,000 social media users in China revealed that approximately 40 percent of respondents have suffered online abuse. In addition, sixteen percent of the sufferers had suicide thoughts. About half of the participants suffered anxiety, 42% sleeplessness, and 32% depression.

Zheng initially intended to take legal action against her online abusers; one of her Weibo tweets in September 2013 was titled "How to sue those who viciously attack you from behind their screens?" Unfortunately, She was later diagnosed with and treated for depression, which she disclosed on social media with her sleeping and eating troubles.

In November, she posted photographs of herself in a medical room with the description "actively battling depression." Her death is the most recent in a succession of Chinese deaths linked to online bullying.

Liu Xuezhou of the city Xingtai committed suicide in January 2022 after a meeting with his birth parents turned sour. When their argument unfolded online, some others accused him of being greedy. The orphaned 17-year-old, whose parents died when he was four years old, penned a letter detailing his prior encounters with bullying and despair.

In November of the same year, Liu Hanbo, a history teacher from the central province of Henan, died after trolls persistently crashed her online sessions. They insulted one another, played loud music, and disrupted the group discussion. Police ruled out foul play as the cause of Liu's death, but said they would investigate whether she had been victimized online.

Sun Fanbao committed suicide himself last month. According to his wife, the 38-year-old was regularly ridiculed by one of his followers and became sad in the months leading up to his death. Sun rose to prominence in 2021 after chronicling his 4,000-kilometer tractor journey from Shandong to Tibet. According to experts, in collectivist cultures such as China, those who deviate from the norm are typically harshly penalized. They say that the problem is exacerbated by a persistent culture of shame.