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    University Expels Student Accused of Selling ‘Deepfake’ Porn

    The male student is said to have been making sexually explicit content using photos of women from his personal social media account.

    A university in central China’s Hunan province expelled one of its distinguished students Tuesday after he was accused of manipulating women’s photos and videos from his social media to make and sell pornographic content online.

    He Runcheng, an undergraduate student at the University of South China, reportedly used Photoshop and “deepfake” technology to produce pornographic content from photos from his WeChat feed, domestic media reported Tuesday. The student, who had won several scholarships, a national innovation competition, and authored multiple research papers, had been selling such content through Twitter in the past three years.

    “The school is currently cooperating with the public security authorities to carry out investigations,” the University of South China said in an announcement following the accusations. “We’ll handle the case seriously based on the result of the investigation.”

    Pornography is banned in China, and selling and distributing such content can be punished by up to 10 years in prison and fines, as well as life imprisonment for severe cases. Despite this, in recent years, the practice of stealing other people’s images and manipulating them for revenge porn or to abuse others has flourished online.

    In 2020, the country’s anti-porn office cracked down on several websites that were selling sexually explicit content of minors, similar to the “Nth room” chatrooms in South Korea. However, Sixth Tone found related groups were still operating, particularly on the encrypted messaging app Telegram whose servers are beyond China’s jurisdiction, where numerous users shared porn generated from artificial intelligence.

    He’s wrongdoing was exposed after a woman, who claimed to be one of his victims, posted about him on microblogging platform Weibo on Monday. The original post has since been deleted, but other users have shared screenshots of it.

    Just two days before He’s expulsion, another male student from Soochow University in the eastern province of Jiangsu was expelled for spreading sexual rumors about female students. The student was also given a 10-day administrative detention.

    Lu Yu, a lawyer at Beijing-based Qianqian Law Firm, told Sixth Tone that those who manipulate other people’s images for nefarious gains may be charged for infringing others’ portrait rights and reputation rights.

    The two cases from Hunan and Jiangsu highlight the use of cyber violence, where male users in particular troll and slut-shame women by fabricating sexual scandals. Earlier in January, a 23-year-old woman killed herself after being harassed for sporting pink hair, while malicious gossip about her sex life floated online.

    To better protect women from such online violence and trolls, China’s newly revised Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law, which went into effect this year, included a new provision that prohibited insults and defamation that harmed their dignity. The law stresses the prosecution of such cases, but it still lacks further specification.

    “The stigmatization brought about by online rumors has cost victims so much time and energy due to having to defend their rights,” the state-run China Women’s News commented in response to He’s case Tuesday. “Follow-up investigations and collecting evidence are causing secondary injuries to victims, just like stabbing a sharp knife into their wounds. Relevant departments should do more to control and punish online trolls and rumors and reduce the cost victims are bearing. We should do more.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: VCG)