‘You nightclub girl’: Woman in China may sue cyberbullies over nasty comments for her pink hair
A young woman in eastern China who was the target of online abuse hired lawyers and said she plans to take legal action against the cyberbullies who called her a “nightclub girl”. They criticised her for her pink hair after she shared a celebratory post that included her bedridden grandfather.
Zheng Linghua, a 23-year-old university graduate from Zhejiang province, was thrilled to be accepted into graduate school to pursue a degree in music, and she shared the celebration with her grandfather, who is sick and spends most of his days in bed.
Zheng, who is active on social media but only has 4,500 followers on Weibo, went viral after she posted a photograph of the moment on social media on July 13. Her pink-dyed hair quickly became a target of online scorn.
“Why does a graduate student dye her hair like a bar girl?” one of the most popular comments read. Other people online compared her to a “nightclub girl” or called her an “evil spirit” because of her hairstyle.
Some people stole the pictures and started to use them for their own purposes, including creating advertisements to sell online courses. Some created fake stories about a sick, elderly man marrying a young lady, while others made links between her pink hair and prostitution.
Other people used the post to attack her planned degree, and, because degrees like hers often lead to teaching positions, they said people with pink hair “are not qualified to become future teachers”.
On Tuesday (July 2) Zheng issued a cease-and-desist letter and vowed to take legal action against people who used her picture, saying they infringed on her rights to her own image and damaged her reputation.
“None of the people who insulted teachers in general, students who majored in music, the East China Normal University (ECNU), my grandfather and me will get away with it ,” she said in a Weibo post. The ECNU is a Shanghai-based university where she will start her postgraduate studies.
A post from July 27 in which she thanked people for support and said, “We are not fighting alone”, has received more than 3,500 likes and 1,700 shares on Weibo as of Thursday afternoon.
“What happened has distracted me so much from my studies and I am suffering from depression,” she said in another post explaining why she refused to give media interviews.
It is, however, unlikely that Zheng will be able to successfully take anyone to court because, unless the abuse results in a serious consequence like suicide, it is difficult to track down and prove the identity of the people behind the accounts.
However, in one high-profile case, three relatives of a teenage boy in Sichuan were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 18 months last year for inciting cyberbullying against a woman who argued with the boy at a swimming pool in 2018.
The woman committed suicide five days after the incident, during which she and her family were attacked online and their personal information was leaked.
The prevalence of cyberbullying has become an increasingly serious problem in mainland China as social media has become ubiquitous in the country.
According to an April study by WhyNot, a US-based Chinese-language news magazine, nearly 40 per cent of over 2,000 Chinese social media users aged between 18 and 35 said they had experienced different levels of online bullying.
About 16 per cent of the victims said they had had suicidal thoughts as a result, and another 16 per cent hurt themselves or attempted suicide because of the online abuse.