Judicious use of the mouse will plot our path, for better or for worse

At a time when there seems to be no limit to the length some Internet trolls will go to elicit a reaction, the harshest penalty – financial or criminal – can be part of the answer.

At a time when there seems to be no limit to the length some Internet trolls will go to elicit a reaction, the harshest penalty – financial or criminal – can be part of the answer.

But the ultimate solution probably lies with us, the millions of netizens, in our judicious use of the mouse in our hands, dictating the clicks so eagerly monitored and monetized by business operators.

On May 12, a fire broke out in a highrise building in Qingjiangpu District of Huaian, Jiangsu Province. In his endeavor to save some residents trapped in the building, Xie Yong, a 21-year-old firefighter, was killed after he fell from the building.

Jiangsu Firefighting Bureau

Xie Yong

There was, predictably, an outpouring of compassion and condolences from all walks of life over the tragic death.

There were exceptions.

Strange comments turned up in QQ Moments, with sentiments like, “Let there be fires and blasts, and better if all is blasted away.” Another read, “As the saying goes, maintain an army for a thousand days so as to use it for one day, but the wretched guy ended up being killed immediately after he was used, and we are all better off for that.”

These remarks, however they were motivated, drew indignation and condemnation from society at large.

Subsequent investigation suggested they were made by a 33-year-old man surnamed Wang, now residing in Huainan, Anhui Province.

Local police, in accordance with relevant legal provisions, put Wang in administrative detention for 15 days, in addition to a fine of 1,000 yuan (US$150).

Hopefully such a penalty will deter those who try to extract some infamy or notoriety by making such outrageous remarks.

Some, like Wang, probably think they can take refuge in the supposed anonymity of cyberspace.

Motivated by mercenary considerations

There are also those who are motivated by mercenary considerations.

This is probably the case with a WeChat account called “Ergengshitang," which published an article on May 11 about a tragic incident in which a flight attendant was allegedly killed by a Didi driver.

In the article entitled “With your blessing, that driver is now lying abed counting money,” the author gave a seedy, macabre, and erotic portrayal of the crime scene, all from imagination.

Following widespread fury, the account was first shut down for one week, and then its owner, allegedly out of remorse, announced it would be closed for good.

A letter released by Ding Feng, founder of the Hangzhou Ergeng Network Technology Co Ltd, which owned Ergengshitang.

Should we expect that cyberspace would henceforth be cleansed of the many sensational, flirtatious, and often crudely concocted lies and click-bait?

The answer lies more with you and me.

These outrageous remarks keep turning up because there is a market for it.

Our over-connection through social media has created a constant thirst for more content promising instant gratification. This leads to over-consumption of some tragedies.

Thus, when the tragic incident involving the flight attendant occurred, it was pursued en masse with so frantic an energy that it quickly led to coverage overkill.

Disproportionate national resources have been dedicated to coverage of such a tragedy, and we have no idea if that has been done with consideration for the feelings of the victim or her family.

For instance, when the attendant was found at the bloody scene of the crime, some netizens eagerly took pictures and shared them on their WeChat Moments. This over-sharing has already led to the criminal detention of five people.

When millions pounce on a tragic figure or incident with such enthusiasm, it can but lead to secondary damage, and it is by no means rare that lies and sensational stuff are being constantly concocted to simply keep up the public's interest.

The incident is deeply tragic. Ironically, the level of excitement and coverage is wholly disproportionate to the tragic nature of the incident.

There is little knowing why some accidents and tragedies fuel so much attention, and there is of course doubt as to whether such attention really leads to any solution.

It is more often a five-day or seven-day sensation, and then the predatory multitudes begin to look for their next trophy.

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