“Life and Death” on the Internet: Metaphors and Chinese Users’ Experiences of “Account Bombing”
“Account bombing” is the phenomenon in which Internet regulators permanently block some individual users’ social media accounts without the users knowing in advance. In this study, we frame account bombing as a form of user-targeted censorship by Internet platforms, which disrupts individual users’ daily routines. To understand how Chinese Internet users make sense of their experiences of account bombing, our study examines user narratives about this practice, paying particular attention to the metaphors they employ. Our findings suggest that users often use metaphors related to the body and death, such as “death sentence, ghosts, reincarnation,” and a person’s “will.” Overall, body-and-death metaphors reveal the irreversibility of account bombing and the uneven power relations of the Chinese Internet, which are heavily skewed toward regulators. These metaphors also establish the relevance of the seemly individual, sporadic experience of account bombing to a broader audience, evoking affective and political sympathy.