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China's Human Flesh Search Engine 248

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times has an interesting article about Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — that have become a phenomenon in China: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, or run out of town. It's crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results. 'In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public,' says Jin Liwen. 'But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions.' In one well known case, when a video appeared in China of a woman stomping a cat to death with the sharp point of her high heel, the human flesh search engine tracked the kitten killer's home to the town of Luobei in Heilongjiang Province, in the far northeast, and her name — Wang Jiao — was made public, as were her phone number and her employer. 'Wang Jiao was affected a lot,' says one Luobei resident. 'She left town and went somewhere else.' The kitten-killer case didn't just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon. Searches have also been directed against cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system."
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China's Human Flesh Search Engine

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:08AM (#31368718)

    and "Anonymous is not your personal army" seems to have held up pretty well against gaming.

  • Mob rule? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:17AM (#31368760)

    Sounds like mob rule to me.

  • 4Chan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by badran ( 973386 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:18AM (#31368772)

    This is 4Chan made in China.... or dare I say ChinChan...

  • by ZirconCode ( 1477363 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:19AM (#31368774)

    Also known as Mature Bullying

  • I wonder if.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Talar ( 1245824 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:19AM (#31368778)
    any in flesh searches that is not approved by the government would be as successful as the one to hunt down the moderate Tibet journalist.
  • Re:Mob rule? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Third Position ( 1725934 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:23AM (#31368786)

    Sounds like mob rule to me.

    Well, as H.L. Mencken once said - the purist form of democracy is the lynch mob. True enough. Ironic that China should be criticized for becoming too democratic.

  • by elFisico ( 877213 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:29AM (#31368810)

    While the public might be a good detective, it certainly is a bad judge. Given the current technology (need I say photoshop?) a picture or a video can be faked by e.g. a malicious stalker who is after destroying a persons reputation. Posting the results of such a witch hunt without the accused having the possibility to respond to the accusation and defend hirself violates a basic human right.

  • by DiamondGeezer ( 872237 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:30AM (#31368816) Homepage
    ...... amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system

    This is the online version of denouncing people to the Thought Police in 1984. Just a reminder that China is still very much a totalitarian state.
  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:30AM (#31368818) Homepage Journal
    The masses of idiots who are willing to gang-stalk undesirables are known as neighborhood-watch groups, H.O.A. members, Citizens-on-Patrol groups, the "private security" industry, and other mindless but well-paid yuppie doggies.

    They are the exact opposite of "not your personal army" and they'll report anybody who mentions "mudkips" to be child pornographers.
  • by bahbar ( 982972 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:36AM (#31368836)
    It's more than that, It's the people _becoming_ the Thought Police.
  • not really (Score:3, Insightful)

    by masmullin ( 1479239 ) <> on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:36AM (#31368838)

    sounds pretty anti-authoritarian-mob justice to me...

    totalitarian states usually want the monopoly on exacting punishments.

  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:38AM (#31368844) Homepage

    Hyperbole much?
    This is nothing but Chinese /b/tards. Bord teens to 30 somethings, who still live with their parents, as is the norm in China, going after very VERY soft targets.

    Nationalism is a disease not at all unique to China.

    Ministry of misuse and overuse of Orwell's novels.

  • by dalutong ( 260603 ) <> on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:51AM (#31368908)

    Yes, but in court you have to provide evidence. And you can refute that evidence. So it becomes rational. Groupthink is not rational. And very very dangerous. And you can't remove the 100 people who are outliers (people who would be taken off a jury because they are prejudiced). Those might be the people who use the information to harass someone they don't like.

    For instance, what if a group decided to "out" all the gay people in a town? They'd start their investigations and post the names online. That's wrong in and of itself. But an outlier might then decide to use that information for violence.

    And that's why we have a judicial system.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:53AM (#31368912) Journal
    Seems more like those lynch mobs.
  • by Krokz ( 1568895 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:54AM (#31368922)
    It looks to me like modern mass gathering. We all know what a charismatic leader and with a few pugilistic punch lines can do to the mass mob. You are innocent until proven guilty and this is a one sided witch hunt and strongly against peoples right to privacy. It is a good thing in some cases, but bad in most.
  • by dflock ( 316013 ) <dunc&dflock,co,uk> on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:55AM (#31368928) Homepage
    Great - the Cultural Revolution 2.0 - along with vigilantism, denouncements & public humiliation. Awesome, just what everyone needed; yay China. Sigh.
  • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:56AM (#31368938)

    It's discussed in TFA: a corrupt local official was hunted down for attempting to pull a small girl into a bathroom, actual eyewitnesses were not sure the situation was so clear cut. The whole reason we have courts is because mob "justice" is rarely that.

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:09AM (#31369002) Journal

    ...and it's nothing new, even if the tools and techniques are modern.

  • Re:not really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:15AM (#31369032)

    Not completely - the goal is to completely brainwash people so that each accuses her or his neighbor of violations against the law. Divide et impera at its best. I come from Eastern Europe and this was practiced massively there. The motion is set by rules that control thinking and everyone stepping over whether for good or bad has her head cut off. Unfortunately, this is our innate stupidity and inconsistency as human species and many people over the ages were taking advantage of that - read Machiavelli. The clever people organize these "witch hunts" though it often backfires. Look at the French Revolution, the same ideas. Everyone is guilty of something, hence everyone can be punished in a Richelieu-an fashion.

  • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:22AM (#31369054)

    Then so is the UK (making the assumption you're from there based on username) which has its fair share of witch hunts organized by the tabloids (Jade Goody, the anti-vaccination insanity, the pediatrician assaulted by confused pedophile hunters, etc...) In fact it might be more totalitarian since the Chinese incidents aren't guided by a central authority like the UK ones but are grass roots initiatives.

  • by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:31AM (#31369690)
    Another unintended effect of Fox News, is left-wing 'bleeding-hearts' assuming all those right-wing 'patriots' are influenced by Fox News.
  • Re:Mob rule? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:34AM (#31369704) Homepage Journal

    You don't even need a plurality to lynch someone.

    What we're seeing here isn't really all that surprising. Public response not mediated by the traditional media? That's a direct result of not having a free press. Vigilantism? That's a direct result of people feeling that the rules don't secure them from a threat.

    Lynch mobs are all about people taking matters into their own hands when the government can't. In the US, local authorities often turned a blind eye to lynchings because they were in sympathy with the mob, and covered up the crime later, but weren't ready to dirty their own hands. Lynchings didn't happen in the antebellum days when blacks were officially slaves.

    That's what you need for a lynching. You need enough people to give each other cover, and you need official indifference. Local government is notoriously corrupt and lax in China.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:41AM (#31369744) Homepage Journal
    No, it's more of a feeling of "ownership" of the women, IE a certain group of Chinese men feel they "own" Chinese women and don't want the "others" sleeping with their property.
  • Re:dude (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:48AM (#31369788)

    1984, orwell, big brother: it would all make sense if the state had a monopoly on technological advance. it doesn't. as such, 1984, orwell, big brother: failed, dead meme, useless way of thinking about your world.

    Thanks. Here I was thinking that 1984 was a commentary on the human condition. I completely missed the point that unless all the conditions and technology were exactly the same, my world and Orwell's world had zero in common.

    I guess I can discrd all the insights into human behaviours in the Iliad and the Odyssey because people don't carry swords anymore.

    And my copy of Herodotus is right out.

  • by quadrox ( 1174915 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:53AM (#31369816)

    I'm sorry, but personally I don't think it's a terribly good example, for several reasons.

    1) First of all, I myself think that chinabounders behaviour is in bad taste. Now I wouldn't go after him in any way, but It doesn't exactly make me feel sympathetic towards him either.
    2) He put it online himself. He basically told the entire world what he was doing, knowing fully well that somebody could take an issue with it. The internet is not your safe haven where you can do anything you like without consequences, at least not if you don't even attempt to remain anonymous. (ok, I don't know the details of this case, but that is what it sounds like to me).

    Of course it is still wrong for the witch hunters to do anything *illegal* to chinabounder - but if he tells the entire world what he is doing, he should not be surprised if somebody gets offended and "retaliates" in a *legal* manner.

    If the witch hunters do illegal things (aka crime), then that is not a problem with the idea of a witch hunt, but those criminal persons need to be jailed.

  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @09:06AM (#31369910) Journal

    Because "bad" isn't limited to what's illegal, but is anything that someone doesn't like? (RTFS for examples.)

    Because of the whole, you know, fair trial and innocent until proven guilty thing?

    Because it shouldn't be up to individuals to apply justice - otherwise, shouldn't they in turn be subject to the same humiliation, for doing this to other people?

  • as religious fundamentalist documents that color your every impression of what happens in your society and are you obsessed with cramming every development in society into the mold of what happens in those stories?

    if no, then you completely understand my point, and your sarcasm is off target

    because there really are people posting here, and that you meet in real life, who think of orwell as some sort of religious prophet about the coming armageddeon. that every sign and signal and portent of news from real life is merely evidence of the coming state of big brother and 1984 as reality. the same as any other idiotic apocalyptic cult

    and don't even get me started on the ayn rand libertarian morons

    look, along with l ron hubbard, these 3 writers from the 20th century have become posthumous cult leaders of a sort of pseudoreligious fan boy delusional confusion of reality and fantasy. if you understand why bible thumping christian fundamentalists and quran thumping muslim fundamentalists are retarded and dangerous, then you also understand why those who have to cram in and see every bit of the human condition as a twist on orwell, as the same sort of cretinous fundamentalist thinking

    its perfectly normal and useful to use the iliad and the odyssey, or the bible, or the quran, or orwell, or rand, or even l ron hubbard, as useful commentary and insight and stories about humanity. its NOT useful to be so obsessed with one particular tale that it colors your every perception of reality

    so if the iliad and the odyssey is the prism from which you view all of human condition, does that make you a homerian fundamentalist? ;-P

  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Friday March 05, 2010 @09:34AM (#31370096) Homepage Journal

    it is imperfect

    but it is clearly ideologically superior to societies that are not democratic, at least according to me, not you apparently

    there are limits on my freedom in a democracy. some are stupid, and i fight them, some limits are natural and i accept them. but i would like to know why these limits are in any way comparable to the limits on someone's freedom living in north korea or cuba

    i call them totalitarian societies. you say there are no totalitarian socities. i would like you to tell me how the rulers of cuba, iran, north korea, or china came to power. i would like you to tell me how barack obama or gordon brown came to power. and finally i would like to know according to what amazing logic you equivocate these two (very different) paths to power

    xenophobia is an interesting topic. i would like to know what the hell that has to do with totalitarianism in your mind. all societies are xenophobic to some degree or another. and it seems to me, that the more totalitarian a society, the more the xenophobia. you apparently see nothing but the same totalitarianism and xenophobia everywhere

    frankly, you're a fucking moron

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:18AM (#31370536)

    The mob, after killing the politician, suddenly realized the "small young girl" was his daughter. After asking the girl why she was screaming, she said, "Because DaDa wouldn't buy cotton candy for me while I'm wearing my best dress. I was so angry I had to pee".

    Mob justice happens because people watch too much CSI(Fake Science), Law and Order(Egomaniac DA needs to pin someone on someone even if they are innocent, EVERYTIME), or even read too much opinionated commentary. Only after they do something terrible do they realize they completely overreacted. Much like the above commentary that implies that once someone reads 1984 or actually doesn't even need to read it I've found, it is the standard by which all things are measured. It would be like reading Calvin and Hobbes and thus knowing how to treat/diagnose children with any mental disorder they might have.

  • and democracy is obviously not the same as mob rule

    and democracy is obviously superior to totalitarianism, autocracy, military juntas, theocracies, monarchies, etc. democracy is not perfect. its simply BETTER than all other alternatives

    everyone in the world deserves the rights and freedoms and self-determination of living in a democracy

    do you not agree with that?

  • by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:37AM (#31370702)

    It depends on the "dispicable" action in question. If its gay sex, I fail to see what right the mob has to attempt to humiliate someone because they decide its "despicable."

  • Subtle difference (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:39AM (#31370730) Homepage

    The subtle difference in these two case, is that the Chinese are genuine vigilantes - carrying the punishment themselves.
    Whereas, in Dusty's case, the citizen merry helped the police finding the necessary elements, in order to let the police conduct a full investigation and the guilty abuser having a fair trial.

    In one case the system is circumvented and could lead to arbitrary abuses - vigilantes attacking people doing things that they just dislike based on their own personal distastes.
    In the other case a fair system is working as it should, just receiving help from motivated people.

    Crowd sourcing some help for a normally functioning Police and Justice: Ok.
    An entirely autonomous vigilantes system which also work as jury, judge and executioner: Not Ok.

    Well, of course, TFA's example being China, one could argue that they lack a *non-corrupt* police and a *fair* trial. The State would also have persecuted people merely suspected of doing things as reprehensible as

    amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system.

    It's basically just crowd-sourcing the State-Approved Though Police (and throwing in a story about animal abuse, just to shed some positive light on the whole activity).

    But translate it to western world to get my point :
    - I just don't want to be beaten to death by a group of vigilantes composed of a high number of Christian Fundamentalists who thinks that pre-marital sex is one of vilest sins.

  • Re:not really (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Krommenaas ( 726204 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @12:36PM (#31372254) Homepage
    I don't care if you grew up in the Kremlin, you're just slapping random labels on two systems of dictatorship without apparently the faintest clue what those labels usually stand for.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky