China urged to tackle online racism targeting Black people

Human Rights Watch says racist tropes ‘common’ across Chinese social media, and that platforms and government must act.

A man looking at his phone silhouetted against a Chinese flag on a massive TV screen
The rights group said Chinese social media platforms were failing to remove racist posts [File: Greg Baker/AFP]

Human Rights Watch has found racist content targeting Black people is becoming increasingly prevalent on China’s social media platforms where it is being used to attract traffic and generate profit.

The rights group reviewed hundreds of videos and posts from 2021 on platforms including Weibo, a short messaging app, and Douyin, the Chinese TikTok, and said it found that content often portrayed Black people through “offensive racial stereotypes”.

Such material was also found on the video-sharing platform Bilibili, Livestream and video app Kuaishou, and social media and e-commerce site Xiaohongshu, it said, noting that the companies had failed to deal with it.

“The amount and extremity of racist content on the Chinese internet suggest that the platforms either are not meeting their own standards banning racist content, or that their policies are inadequate when addressing racist content, both contrary to their human rights responsibilities,” the report said.

Human Rights Watch noted that influencer videos depicting Black Africans as primitive or dependent on Chinese people as their saviours were particularly widely shared, while Black people who married Chinese were accused in online posts of “contaminating” and threatening the Chinese race. Chinese in relationships with Black people, meanwhile, were accused of being traitors.

“The Chinese government likes to tout China-Africa anti-colonial solidarity and unity, but at the same time, ignores pervasive hate speech against Black people on the Chinese internet,” Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “Beijing should recognise that undertaking investments in Africa and embracing China-Africa friendship won’t undo harm caused by unaddressed racism.”

Accusations of racism against Africans also emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some were forced out of their apartments and singled out for quarantine, prompting rare criticism from African leaders. Some African residents said they had been the target of everyday racism and xenophobia long before that, with state media and adverts deploying ‘Blackface‘ and racial caricatures.

Human Rights Watch noted most Chinese social media platforms have community standards and guidelines that ban content promoting racial or ethnic hatred and discrimination.

It said Bilibili, Kuaishou, Weibo and Xiaohongshu did not respond to its letters questioning the racist content, and urged the platforms, which quickly remove content critical of the government, to take down videos and posts that violate community standards on hate speech or might incite racial discrimination or violence.

ByteDance, Douyin’s owner, removed one video after it was flagged by Human Rights Watch, but took no action against a number of others concerning a Black child, stating that the depiction was “not necessarily associated with any certain group or race”.

Douyin added that it had “a combination of people and technology” to enforce content moderation guidelines and that it “on average take[s] action on more than 300 videos and comments per day that include violative content targeting Black people”.

Human Rights Watch said Chinese in interracial relationships with Black people were often the target of online abuse with women being threatened with rape, death and doxing – publishing personally identifiable information without the individual’s consent.

It noted the prevalence of posts calling on the government to ban Black people from becoming permanent residents in China or from marrying Chinese people. Some also adopted racist symbols and language frequently used in the United States in their online posts, while some called for them to be killed.

Chinese who condemned the racism or provided support to victims of racism were also targeted, it added.

Noting that Beijing maintains “one of the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship regimes” through the so-called Great Firewall, it urged the government to do more to tackle the problem and take steps to promote tolerance and fight prejudice.

“Major Chinese social media platforms are failing to fulfil their own guidelines to address pervasive racist content,” Wang said. “Chinese authorities should stop facilitating this toxic environment.”

Source: Al Jazeera