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China's latest Internet phenomenon: curse groups

2018-06-22 20:53:18

Despite faint hopes of qualifying for any World Cup tournaments in the foreseeable future, China has come to dominate another tournament - online swearing battles, where users indulge in revels of bashing one another in the so-called 'curse groups' on Chinese social media app WeChat.

The abuse battles are so prevalent that even a hashtag has been created on Weibo. Within two weeks, #cursegroup has been viewed more than 11 million times and has invited almost 10,000 comments. The catchphrase that went viral sums up the scale of this abusive battle perfectly: “How dare you say you've used the Internet if you haven't been in a "curse group?”

Screenshots of 'curse groups' on WeChat.

The groups surfaced after the NBA finals earlier this month between Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, which invoked bitter quarrels between fans of both teams in a WeChat group. The group quickly spiralled to include a number of other topics, such as Pepsi versus Coca-Cola, Apple's iOS versus Google's Android, McDonald's versus KFC, Taobao versus JD.com, pro-cilantro versus anti-cilantro, just to name a few. Chat groups were created specifically for users to hurl insults at the other side in the form of profane messages, emojis, songs, rap and even beatboxing.

Most of the participants are students and young employees, and their purpose is not to determine which side is superior, but to swear and argue for the sake of swearing and arguing.

'It's just a game where you obtain pleasure from an unscrupulous war of words,' said Cheng Yu, a university student who doesn't think it's immoral to scold others in 'curse groups', 'it helps us to let off some steam.' Twenty-four-year-old hairstylist Lu Ji joined a 'curse group' just for fun, he didn't expect there were so many forms of swearing and found it inviting.

However, there are numerous people who aren't impressed by the abusive battles. Li Yang, a junior student who quit a 'curse group' not long after he joined, complained to the Workers' Daily, 'It's utterly vulgar and barbaric! Everyone's cursing in foul language and nobody thinks it's simply wrong. I feel disappointed at the prevalence of such chat groups.'

Netizens who find the phenomenon 'unbearable' reported to WeChat and begged for regulations. WeChat later published an announcement saying such abuse battles not only violate WeChat's terms of use, but also have a negative effect on other users' normal online communication. 'We will close private accounts involved in the incidents or prevent them from logging in. Chat groups that have vicious content will be closed,' the statement continued.

In the view of Fu Cheng, director of the Institute of Sociology, Jilin Academy of Social Science, considering that WeChat has over 1 billion users, it is only natural that 'curse groups' have been created. He thinks that it's understandable that netizens take to WeChat to vent their frustration, because swearing can give people an outlet for their emotions and even relieve pain and stress.

However, Fu stresses that verbal abuse is considered rude and inadvisable in both the real and virtual world. 'Those who give free reign to bad behaviour on Internet are cowards in real life because they are not capable of improving their situation. Scolding others online is not the answer to difficulties, but may cause social disharmony.'

China's Cyberspace Administration issued an online group management regulation in 2017, stating that online group members should not spread content prohibited by the law, and that online platforms should have a real-name system. It says users who refuse to provide their real-name shall be prevented from posting content.

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