'Don't be afraid.' Victim of raunchy online content fights back

Tian Shengjie
The rise of online gossip groups created to peddle salacious material poses a public menace, police say.
Tian Shengjie

Erotic pictures of a scantily clad Chinese woman recently were spread in gossip groups on social media. The victim, who is an Internet celebrity named Xiaoxue, fought back.

"To victims like me, I say don't be afraid," Xiaoxue said in a video. "You can use the law as a weapon to defend yourselves against rumor-mongers. The lawbreakers are the ones who should be frightened. They will pay for their actions."

Scamsters are exploiting prurient public voyeurism by creating social media groups that feature raunchy gossip, fake videos and often obscene or violent content to attract paying viewers, said Guo Fuqun, a policeman with the cybersecurity department of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.

"We have been focusing on these gossip groups for some time, especially with the rise of video-sharing applications," he said.

Xiaoxue, who has over 5.7 million followers on the video-sharing app Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, won widespread praise for taking on the illegal profiteers.

In July, she conducted her own undercover operation, paying 12 yuan (US$1.65) to join a gossip group that has 300 members and peddles slanderous material. When she had gathered enough information to incriminate those behind the group, she turned the evidence over the police, under the guidance of her lawyer.

The matter is under investigation and pending in court, she said.

'Don't be afraid.' Victim of raunchy online content fights back

A screenshot of Xiaoxue's recent video on the video-sharing app Douyin about the gossip group issue in July

In a related case, five people were recently arrested for making one million yuan from a gossip group involved in salacious material, according to police in Jinan, a city in Shandong Province.

An investigation into the group started after the video of a girl being bullied by several young women was widely spread on many platforms.

Police said videos aired by the group were compiled by editing fake news that involved sexual and violent elements, including the bullying video. The videos were aimed at attracting people to join WeChat and QQ groups. They also shared downloaded porn from international websites.

The gang of suspects shared more than 300,000 fake and pornographic scenes with 1,000 groups on social media, and over 500,000 people became their followers, police said. And then they sold the groups to lewd, livestreaming platforms at prices ranging from 1.2-1.5 yuan per member.

Recently, many netizens were shocked by the news that Lisa Manobal of the K-pop girl group Blackpink would sing and dance at Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris this month.

The news spawned a flurry of online hate from those who were led to believe that the Paris club is a strip joint. After paying 12 yuan to join a gossip group, some viewers received a picture that seemed to be of a nude Lisa during a rehearsal at the club, but there was no evidence that the image was actually her or actually taken during a rehearsal there.

'Don't be afraid.' Victim of raunchy online content fights back

A Weibo user invites others to join a gossip group for images and videos of Lisa during a rehearsal at Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris.

Crazy Horse, which does sometimes feature nude dancers, defended itself as a respectable venue, noting that it had once hosted Beyoncé.

Qian Peng, a lawyer with Fadedongheng Law Firm, told Shanghai Daily that the activities of such gossip groups violate many laws.

He said those who edit and spread erotic, fake or violent material are subject to charges of slander, infringing on the right of fame and insulting others. Moreover, they infringe on the privacy of personal information if they sell it without approval.

Those who join in the groups specifically to view such banned material could also be subject to punishment by the police, he said.

Internet service providers, Qian added, have a statutory obligation to prevent the spread of illegal content.

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