New movie reveals pain behind cyber violence
Director hopes film will inspire reflection
Published: Nov 29, 2023 10:05 PM
Promotional material for <em>Trending Topic</em> Photo: Courtesy of <em>Trending Topic</em>

Promotional material for Trending Topic Photo: Courtesy of Trending Topic

A girl jumps off a building after being sexually assaulted while the perpetrator spreads rumors and frames her. The upcoming realist film Trending Topic, which is set to hit big screens in China on Thursday, zooms in on today's unpredictable social media platforms and the war of public opinion on the internet. 

"We often found that there is a lot of chaos behind many online hot spots and news topics. Many netizens may be misled by 'public opinion' about the truth, resulting in improper behavior and even online violence," director Xin Yukun told the Global Times, explaining why he chose to treat the film as a warning to audiences to "be cautious and reflective about online public opinion and its hidden influences."

Starring actress Zhou Dongyu, actors Yuan Hong and Song Yang, Trending Topic, produced by iQIYI Pictures, could become a trending topic itself considering its content relevant to every online user. It centers on a chief editor of a self-publishing company skilled at generating online traffic and trending topics, who inadvertently contributes to a female student's suicide. After discovering a distressing message from the victim, she uncovers a sexual assault case and learns that a powerful perpetrator has maligned the victim. Amid fluctuating public sentiment and emerging hidden interests, a battle to bring corrupt powers to justice ensues.

Living in today's internet age, people have access to a lot of information and everyone has more opportunities to express themselves, said the film's screenwriter Yang Weiwei. However, with the fast development of social media, the manipulation of public opinion and certain types of self-published media have become possible. The stories of "ruining a person through online posts" became a reality from time to time and the truth is often hidden under a layer of lies. 

"They are all things that happen in real life, so we want to create a movie based on this theme," she said. 

Promotional material for <em>Trending Topic</em> Photo: Courtesy of <em>Trending Topic</em>

Promotional material for Trending Topic Photo: Courtesy of Trending Topic

The movie exposes the audience to an eye-opening "online public opinion war," vividly showcasing the power of words on screen. This enables viewers to intuitively recognize that the influence of public opinion has the potential to both save and take lives. 

Xin said that he hopes that after watching the movie, everyone can "re-examine their online behavior, reflect more on the chaos of online public opinion and maintain their rational judgment."

"Being in the internet era, everyone is a participant and observer of public opinion. Remain objective and rational when speaking out, do not be influenced by others, and maintain the ability to think independently," he added. 

China's Ministry of Public Security on Tuesday made public a number of typical criminal cases involving cyber violence in recent years.

In one such case, while on probation, a culprit surnamed Zhang, in an attempt to continue to manipulate his victim, illegally obtained the victim's private information through locators and wiretaps, hired online spammers to spread the victim's intimate videos and photos, and fabricated reports to the victim's employer, resulting in the victim suffering PTSD.

Zhang had been sentenced to six years in prison for the abuse of personal information, creating disturbances and intentional assault, the ministry said. 

Cybersecurity departments of public security organs nationwide will continue to take strong action against acts of cyber violence and strengthen collaboration with other departments to eliminate breeding grounds for these crimes and ensure a healthy cyberspace, according to the ministry. 

By mapping various social realities, the upcoming movie aims to make audiences realize the horror of online violence and explain values such as "remaining rational" and "independent thinking" and "not being bystanders or accomplices of online violence," added the director. 

The production team grasped this sensitive topic and gave it an artistic and cinematic presentation, commented Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, who said he hopes the movie can help promote a healthy online environment. 

The movie will also be released in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore in the coming month.