The popularity of social media platforms has dissolved online communication barriers between people and left the medium open to abuse. This is precisely what happened with an 18 year old girl, who unwittingly found herself at the receiving end of vitriol, no one should have to face.
When 18-year-old high school student An Qi visited this clothes shop in Donghai County of Lufeng City in Guangdong Province, little did she know what impact it would have on her.
Just a few days after her visit, she found she had been labelled a thief on a microblog by the shopowner. The owner, with the surname Cai had posted surveillance images of Qi in the shop with the caption - "this girl is a thief, she often comes to my shop with a dog. Please repost and hunt the thief for me."
No sooner had the post gone out, than people jumped on it and began to search for this thief. It wasn’t long before An Qi’s private information, ranging from her name, school, home address and personal photos were posted online. What followed next was abuse online. Soon, her school was talking about her.
Unable to take it anymore, on December the 2nd, An Qi asked for two days sick leave from school.
The next day, she committed suicide by jumping into the river. But not after she posted on the same microblog this line - "It’s the first time that I’m not afraid of the river."
An Qi was no more.
After her death, her sister criticised the shopowner for what she had done. On December the 6th, An Qi’s father brought a lawsuit to Lufeng People’s Court against the shop-owner Cai, accusing her of "Internet Defamation".
Now, thousands of people have left messages online vouching for the right to privacy.
On the legal front, experts say there are still many grey areas.
"The public often see the Internet as a platform for judgment and publish their remarks without judicial authorization. People’s privacy and personality could be hurt by certain remarks on the Internet. The law is vague on dealing with such problems. How one gauges and defines responsibility on the internet still requires clarification." Xu Xuan, law professor of Jinan University, said.
Some say, "On the Internet, everyone is a moral guardian."
However, how far people take this and for what purpose is a dangerous territory. The smallest issues triggering a majority of the public’s anger is a cause for concern. And who knows this better than An Qi’s family.