For six months after my story went to press, I didn’t dare open QQ. This April, I used the popular messaging platform to make contact with a group of trolls active on Chinese social media as part of a reporting project for the Chinese magazine Sanlian Lifeweek. The past few years have witnessed a number of tragedies caused by cyberbullying and coordinated harassment campaigns. Given the mounting toll, my editors and I were curious: Who was running these campaigns, and why?
We were hardly the only ones posing this question. In 2016, beauty blogger Em Ford made a short documentary, “Troll Hunters,” in which she attempted to confront her attackers face to face. After hiring a detective to track them down, Ford finally arranged a meet with her bully in the parking lot below the bully’s home. “Why do you send abuse to people?” she asked, her voice quivering with rage.