Weibo accounts shut over comments criticising young Chinese victim of Ethiopian Airlines crash

Flowers placed at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia.
PHOTO: Reuters

Regulators of Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging service, shut down several accounts on Tuesday after for comments attacking a young woman who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

"We received reports from users that there were contents under the Weibo of an aeroplane crash victim that attacked her," a post on the official Weibo regulators' account said. "We have checked and closed down [several accounts] that attacked personally and viciously. Please respect the deceased and discuss rationally."

The crash took place on Sunday, minutes after a Boeing 737 MAX 8 took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bound for Nairobi, Kenya. All eight crew members and 149 passengers aboard were killed, including tourists, business travellers and United Nations staff.

Eight of the passengers were Chinese, including one from Hong Kong. In the past few days, one particular victim caught the eye of Chinese internet users: a 22-year-old college student from east China's Zhejiang province who reportedly was on a trip to see wild animals in Nairobi.

The online community soon found her Weibo page and started posting comments on it. At first there were notes of condolences, then some discovered that the photos she posted online showed she came from a well-to-do family.

Some started attacking her online. One comment read: "Why are people attacking the female college student? You can find the answer on her Weibo page. When I see that you are living in a hotel that costs a few thousand yuan a night, eat fancy food every day, and when you want to see giraffes you can immediately go to Kenya, although I won't be happy for your misfortunes, I definitely do not have sympathy for you."

The young woman's Weibo page has been taken down, and so have more than 10 accounts that initiated the attack.

Zhang Feng, a commentator for Tencent News' column Dajia, wrote that the attack could not be treated as a temporary or individual action, rather "it's a common disease in this era".

This is not the first time online attacks online have occurred after a tragedy, and public victim-blaming has become increasingly frequent in China.

In October, a bus in Chongqing municipality plunged from a bridge into the Yangtze River, killing 13 people, during a fight between a passenger and the driver. After the accident, some online commenters blamed other passengers for not breaking up the fight, with some even saying the victims deserved their fate because they did not step in and allowed the situation snowball.

"During an avalanche, not a single snowflake is innocent," one person wrote.

Last May, a flight attendant was killed by a driver while using the ride hailing app Didi Chuxing, and her photo was widespread on the internet. Some wrote expressing the opinion that a beautiful young woman should not be taking a taxi alone at night.

During all these incidents, there were online rebuttals. This time, there were also discussions of privacy concerns, especially concerning the deceased.

Some questioned the media for reporting on the private lives of the victims. After the crash, a reporter from Beijing Youth Daily tried contacting a friend of the young woman, but the friend publicly displayed her message on Weibo and accused her of "feasting on the blood of the deceased".

This article was first published in South China Morning Post