Elizabeth Dalziel/AP
Beijing, China

Chinese ‘Human Flesh Search Engines’ Claim Another Victim

June 27, 2008 09:48 AM
by Isabel Cowles
A mob of Chinese ‘netizens’ banded together to track down and punish a 21-year old video blogger whose clip was deemed unpatriotic.

30-Second Summary

Gao Qianhi, a 21-year old Chinese woman, recently posted an online video of herself complaining about the overwhelming amount of TV coverage of the earthquakes in southwest China: “You guys, if you're hit by the rubble, just go suffer by yourself quietly.”

Hours later, intimate details about Ms. Qianhi’s life were spread across the Internet by a mob of online vigilantes, or “netizens,” who use the Internet as a “human flesh search engine” to track down and punish people who publish material they deem inappropriate.

Human Flesh Search Engine” is an imprecise translation of “ren’rou sou’suo,” which can also be translated as “human-assisted search engine.”

CNN refers to this practice as “Internet mobbing,” explaining that it most often occurs when “social norms are strict yet perceived as under threat. People are targeted when they are thought to have deviated from those norms.” Generally, the victim’s personal information is published to a broad audience, along with derogatory comments and death threats.

While there are instances of Internet mobbing in other countries, the movement appears to be particularly powerful in China. One information expert explained to New American Media that “large-scale human flesh search engines are unique to China [because] of China’s ubiquitous manpower and ingrained tradition of ‘people's war’ tracing back to Mao. On the other hand, because China's laws are imperfect, the Internet is seen as a way to seek justice.”

Headline Link: ‘Chinese vigilantes … hunt victims on the Web’

Reference: How “human flesh search engines” work

Background: The long arm of ‘netizen’ vigilantes

Opinion & Analysis: The appeal of ‘human flesh search engines’

Related Topics: China online

Hacker threat
Chinese Internet censorship

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