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How to protect persons' legitimate rights and interests when suffering from cyber-violence

english.bjinternetcourt.gov.cn | Updated: 2023-09-06


Case 1: Online sexual harassment leads to compensation of 30,000 yuan  

The defendant Li, and the plaintiff Xu, were colleagues. After hearing that Xu had made negative comments about him, as revenge, Li cropped Xu's photo from Xu's social media platform without permission, deliberately enlarging Xu's sensitive body parts, and used the photo as Li's avatar photo on social network account. Moreover, Li also published five posts insulting and sexually harassing Xu.

Denying  that he had made negative comments about Li and that Li's behavior was serious sexual harassment, Xu reported Li to the public security department, where Li received a five-day administrative detention penalty. Xu also succeeded with a complaint to the social media platform to removed the infringing content. However, Li still continued to insult and sexually harass Xu via private messages. Xu eventually sued Li at the Beijing Internet Court.

According to Article 1010 of the Civil Code, "A person who has been sexually harassed against their will by another person through oral words, written language, images, physical acts, or the like, has the right to request the actor to bear civil liability in accordance with law." The court's final ruling was that Li's behavior constituted sexual harassment, and should apologize to Xu and compensate 30,000 yuan ($4,114.8) for mental stress caused.

Harassing others by disseminating indecent images or text online, even without the occurrence of physical contact, may constitute sexual harassment. The defendant needs to bear civil and administrative liabilities, even criminal liabilities for serious cases. 

Case 2: Major online influencer reposting false article gets penalty of 100,000 yuan

The plaintiff Chen, was a public figure, and the defendant Zhou, was a renowned entertainment blogger with around 4.86 million followers online. According to Chen, on Nov 30, 2020, Zhou published false statements through his social platform account, which were malicious, insulting and defamatory. The post received over 6,300 reposts, over 22,000 comments and nearly 660,000 likes on the same day. And the topic involved was listed as a trend of the day, causing huge online buzz.

Believing that Xiao published false information about Chen without any verification and severely damaged Chen's reputation, Chen requested the court to order the defendant to make a public apology and pay 350,000 yuan ($48,115.1) in compensation for mental stress caused.

The defendant argued that he was merely forwarding an article from others, and that all the statements were neutral and assumptive, thus not constituting slandering to the plaintiff.

After trial, the court determined that the plaintiff as a public figure, had a tolerance duty in accepting the supervision of public opinion and satisfying the public's right to know. But the authenticity of the article involved lacked objective basis and was beyond reasonable scope of public opinion supervision. As a major online influencer, the defendant failed his duty of verification of the derogatory and defamatory content in the article, and hyped the topic in order to generate viewership for improper benefits, therefore was subjectively at fault.   

The court's final ruling was that the defendant should issue a letter of apology to the plaintiff on the social platform account involved, and pay 100,000 yuan in compensation for mental stress caused. The defendant appealed and the court of second instance upheld the original judgment. The verdict has now taken effect.

Case 3: Major online influencer's exposing attacker's personal information as revenge is infringement

Wang was a major legal blogger on a social media platform with nearly 500,000 followers. Fan, who was still studying in a university, sent insulting remarks to Wang via private messaging due to a difference of opinion on a hot topic. Outraged, Wang exposed Fan’s personal information on the social media platform, including Fan's account number on the platform, personal photos and the name of the university Fan was attending. Wang also posted multiple insulting remarks against Fan as a counterattack, causing mass attention, commenting and forwarding. Furthermore, Wang also tagged Fan's university's official account and the university's student union account on the platform to cyberbully Fan.

To prevent the situation from getting worse, Fan delivered an apology to Wang multiple times via private messages along with apology red envelopes, which were all denied by Wang. Wang then sued Fan at the BIC, requesting a public apology both on Fan's personal account and on Fan's university's official website, as well as compensation for mental stress caused.

After trial, the BIC determined that Fan damaged Wang's personal dignity by sending him private messages which were abusive and highly insulting, infringing upon Wang's general personality rights.

Meanwhile, Wang as a major online influencer and a legal professional, used insulting words against Fan and published Fan's photo as well, which was beyond reasonable limits and infringed upon Fan's rights to reputation and portrait. The court's final ruling was that the two sides should apologize in writing to each other and the amount of compensation for mental stress offset.

In this case, Wang turned from the abused into the abuser of online violence. Online influencers enjoy a certain power of discourse on cyberspace and their opinion tends to spread fast with irreversible consequences. Therefore, they should conduct a higher-level of duty of care, and exercise their influence with caution.

Tips from the judge:

When suffering from cyber-violence,  the initial step is to quickly disable private messaging on social media platforms to avoid receiving further instances of cyber-violence. It is also important to promptly report and file complaints to the social media platform, providing a detailed description of the specific situation and relevant links. The involved platform has an obligation to remove, block, and disconnect links related to  cyber-violence and ensure the timely protection for those involved. Additionally, one can seek assistance by reporting the incident to public security organs and preserve relevant evidence through methods such as screenshots and recordings. Legal action can be taken by filing a lawsuit with the people's court to protect one's legitimate rights and interests.