Photo by Aether Wu
In a startling case from earlier this week, it seems that courts in Zhejiang Province have ruled that Tencent, the makers of the super popular QQ chat program, is 10% responsible for a student who killed himself. “Fan” responded to a “suicide invitation” by “Zhang” on QQ, and the two agreed to meet up and commit suicide. Only Fan died, when Zhang gave up because of the “unbearable pain.”
Fan’s parents brought the suit, accusing Tencent of not doing enough to make sure these types of “harmful” entities are scrubbed from their platform. As China Hush translates:
The two plaintiffs stated their case: defendant Zhang invited their son Fan to commit suicide via the Internet, which led the death of their son; another defendant Shenzhen Tencent Computer System Co. Ltd, as a network service provider, did not delete or disable the content of “meeting to suicide” in timely manner, which caused it to spread. Therefore the two defendants should be liable for the death of Fan.
The court announced ruling after the hearing, defendant Zhang had been posting “suicide invitations” at different times and in different QQ groups without targeting specific individuals, and defendant Tencent never took any measures against the information that may be harmful to people’s lives, which resulted Fan and Zhang meeting up to commit suicide. Two defendants’ actions indirectly caused damaging consequences, should bear respective liability according to the proportion of their faults. The two plaintiffs are entitled to request compensation from two defendants who are partially liable.
What’s surprising is that the judge agreed, ordering Tencent to pay a one-time compensation to Fan’s parents: 10% of the death compensation rate, funeral expense and transportation costs. The total is 55,612.50RMB. Zhang, for his role in Fan’s death, was ordered to pay twice that (20% of everything).
Even more surprising is that it seems that many internet users agree that Tencent ought to have a big share in the blame. According to a piece translated by ESWN:
Our reporter interviewed many Internet users about the QQ chat groups on suicide. The opinion was that these groups are especially harmful to inexperienced persons and they really ought to be shut down and/or held legally responsible.
Our reporter called up the Tencent Company’s customer service hotline and told them about the QQ chat groups on suicide. The worker promised that the company will look into these groups. If the information provided by the reporter is true, those groups will be shut down and the relevant government departments will be notified.
While in the United States, the person who suggests the suicide pact is legally culpable on murder charges, that in itself has been contested. Very recently, in the United Kingdom, two people met and committed suicide together through a Google Groups forum, but it seems the only publication pointing its finger at Google is The Daily Mail. As one psychologist argued, “The internet was only the means… The internet merely enables people to do things more quickly.”
Tencent has appealed the verdict, arguing that ” Internet service providers have no right to monitor users’ message.” Of note: this is a little ironic considering the platform was accused earlier this year of spying on private computers.