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After More Than a Decade, the Human Flesh Search Engine Is Still Raging Across Chinese Social Media

At times unjust, excessive, or even illegal – but the Human Flesh Search still is an inherent part of Weibo.

Brydon Brancart

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Since the early years of microblogging in China, the so-called ‘Human Flesh Search Engine’, a phenomenon in which Internet users hunt down and punish people, has repeatedly attracted the attention of the media. More than 10 years later, the ‘Human Flesh Search Engine’ is still raging on Chinese social media.

While surfing Weibo, a Changsha police officer named Hu Hanlin (@老囧货) recently came across an article titled “Violent Murder of Golden Retriever.” The article discussed a video posted on the afternoon of December 31st, 2017, showing a Changsha police officer bludgeoning a golden retriever. The article caught Hu off guard – it was about him.

As Hu wrote in a January 2nd Weibo post; “I was surprised to find that [the article] included my official position, work photo, name, phone number, and even described me as this event’s perpetrator.”

Hu Hanlin is a victim of what has been called the “Human Flesh Search Engine” (renrou sousuo yinqing 人肉搜索引擎), the Chinese term for the phenomenon of netizens distributing the personal information of individuals people feel ‘deserve’ public interest or scorn.

In Hu Hanlin’s case, the attack was unjust. As Hu wrote on his Weibo account: “I was not at all involved (..) For quite some time I have only investigated crimes through video footage, I have never directly responded to 110 calls.” In Hu’s case, as with many other instances of Human-Flesh-Searching, a viral online video had instigated netizen’s search for the culprit, at which point they mistook Hu’s picture for the man in the video.

 
Human-Flesh-Searching: Identifying the ‘Culprit’
 

‘Human-Flesh-Searching’ is a group endeavor to reveal someone’s identity and personal details online. Targets are often individuals who have disrupted public order in some way and have angered netizens for their behavior and actions; such as a Ms. Luo, who was recently caught on camera blocking a train door and fighting off a conductor as she refused to allow a high-speed train to depart from Hefei station – she was determined to let her tardy husband get on board.

Ms Luo recently became a target of the Human Flesh Search Engine when she held up an entire high-speed train because her husband was running late.

While online outcry directed at the individual is the norm, the result of a Human Flesh Search can also come to personal confrontations, or to netizens sending unsavory items, such as cockroaches or funerary objects, to a person’s personal address.

Media have been reporting about the Human Flesh Search phenomenon since the early beginnings of Chinese social media. One of the first big cases from 2006 involved a video that spread through chatrooms of a woman purposely killing a kitten with the sharp point of her high heel. Enraged netizens soon came into action to search for the identity and personal information of this so-called ‘Hangzhou Kitten Killer,’ and discovered she was a 41-year-old nurse named Wang Jue. She was later suspended from her job.

Digging further back into China’s internet history, Human-Flesh-Searching first became popular in 2001 on MOP, one of China’s most influential online forums, when a netizen posted a photo of his alleged girlfriend that turned out to be model Chen Ziyao. Her personal information was publicized to prove he was lying.

One explanation of the practice’s jarring name is that it originally referred not to the hunt for an individual per se, but to how the information is collected. Instead of entering their question into a search engine, netizens who want to ‘activate’ the ‘Human Flesh Search Engine’ call on the online community to find the answers for them in a collective effort. Online community members usually gather this kind of information from their personal resources and networks. “Human Flesh” therefore actually refers to the searchers – not the searched.

 
From Animal Cruelty to Media Bias
 

Human Flesh Searches are often used in cases involving animal cruelty. A case that recently made headlines occurred in the capital of Sichuan province. On December 12th, a woman’s Corgi dog ‘Lion’ went missing and was found by another woman named He Hengli who then blackmailed the owner over its release.

When the ‘hostage’ negotiations reached a deadlock, the dog’s owner finally went to He’s apartment to fetch her dog with police offers and reporters. While they knocked the door, Lion was thrown to his death from He’s sixth story apartment.

The story of ‘Lion,’ who was killed by the person who held him ‘hostage’, went viral on Weibo in January 2018. (Photos by Shanghaiist show the owner with her deceased dog, and Lion in happy times on the right).

The story caused huge outrage on Chinese social media, where details of He were released online, including her phone number and (work) address, leading to netizens harassing and threatening her at her home.

But besides coming into action with cases that involve animal cruelty, there are countless of other types of cases in which it also happens.

Just last week, the huge ‘Tang Lanlan’ case on Weibo ignited an ‘online war’ between netizens and the media over reports of a decade-old sexual abuse case. When many netizens felt that journalists reporting the case were biased and favored the suspects over the victim, personal details of the reporters were gathered by netizens and leaked online.

 
Voices Calling for More Privacy Laws
 

While 2018 has already seen several viral cases of Human-Flesh-Searching, these fly in the face of current Chinese internet privacy laws.

Voices calling for more privacy laws grew stronger in late 2014, when a Guangzhou shopkeeper named Ms. Cai was sentenced to one year in prison for instigating a Human-Flesh-Searching campaign over an alleged case of theft that resulted in the suicide of an 18-year-old high schooler.

Becoming the (unjust) target of a Human Flesh Search can ruin people’s lives and careers, as well as jeopardize their safety. Whether it concerns alleged theft, animal abuse, or an extramarital affair, the ‘culprits’ will be hit equally hard by the impact of the ‘online mob’.

Ma Rong, the ex-wife of Chinese celebrity Wang Baoqian, was slandered online in 2016, with people exposing her phone and address when news of her secret love affair went viral. Do a thief, an unfaithful wife, and a kitten killer all deserve the same scorn, and should it be up to the online community to punish them for their alleged deeds? While some support the human-flesh-search-engine approach for those who abuse animals and show off their violence, others point out its dangers.

In a further effort to limit Human Flesh Searching, legal punishment for the practice grew stricter last year. The Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate released a joint statement clarifying that, depending upon the severity of the invasion and dispersion of personal information, a perpetrator could be sentenced to up to 7 years in jail.

 
An Alternative Punishment
 

These previous legal warnings, however, have not seemed to stop individuals from exposing other people’s personal information; neither has it stopped individuals from acting upon available details. Some argue that Human Flesh Searching plays a valuable societal role in China’s online community.

One Weibo blogger (@灰鸽叔叔) concluded a post on the subject by writing: “Some people don’t do bad things because they have a kind heart. Some people don’t do bad things because they are unwilling to bear the responsibilities of doing bad things. If you don’t allow people to suffer [the humiliation of Human Flesh Searching] they will begin to feel that they are above the consequences…If the law is momentarily unable to solve this problem, then netizens using human-flesh-searching, or even collectively speaking ill of them surely can supply this kind of punishment.”

This blogger is not the only one arguing that Human Flesh Searching is an important way to battle social injustice; many other netizens also say that when the law cannot punish people for their deeds (f.e. China lacks a solid legislation against animal cruelty), a Human Flesh Search is an alternative form of retribution.

As for the case of Officer Hu – in the two days after being falsely accused he received more than a thousand texts. The texts contained messages such as “I wish Hu Hanlin a 2018 full of death for him and his whole family by evisceration…,” or “Hu Hanlin’s body should fester in the wilderness, to be slowly consumed by wild dogs.”

Hu’s phone flooded with messages after becoming the unjust target of a Human Flesh Search.

On Weibo, meanwhile, despite a seeming majority of people supporting the practice of the Human Flesh Search Engine, there are more and more voices opposing it. One netizen pleads: “No matter for what purpose you do it, no matter what kind of evidence you are trying to get, the Human Flesh Search method is undoubtedly the most stupid and the most dangerous – please stop this crazy criminal behavior.”

For Hu, however, any movements against the practice come too late. For him, the Human Flesh Search has even resulted in netizens coming to his house. The funeral flowers and funeral money on his doorstep are a reminder of how far the Human Flesh Search Engine can go.

By Brydon Brancart, edited by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Brydon Brancart is a writer and Chinese translator. Originally from California, he has lived in both Beijing and Shanghai. He is interested in understanding the role modern media trends play in shaping worldviews, personal identity, and social behavior.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Maaz Kalim

    March 14, 2018 at 6:14 am

    Yeah, the same is called “doxxing” over there in the West.

  2. Pingback: Human Flesh Search Engine – the moral actions or a – JadeJade

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China Digital

“Taobao Life”: This Feature Shows How Much Money You’ve Spent on Taobao

Some users just found out they could’ve bought a house with the money they’ve spent on Taobao.

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few days, a new Taobao feature that allows users to see how much money they have spent on the online shopping platform is flooding Chinese social media.

Taobao Marketplace is China’s biggest online shopping platform. Owned by tech giant Alibaba, Taobao was launched in 2003 to facilitate consumer-to-consumer retail.

For many people, Taobao shopping has become part of their everyday life. Whether it is clothes, pet food, accessories, electronics, furniture – you name it, Taobao has it.

Because buying on Taobao is so easy, fast, and convenient, many online consumers lose track of how much they actually spent on the platform – especially if they have been using it for years already.

Thanks to “Taobao Life,” users can now see the total amount of money spent on their account.

How to do it? First: go to Taobao settings and click the profile account as indicated below.

Image by whatsonweibo.com

Then click the top icon that says “Achievement” (成就).

Image by whatsonweibo.com

And here you find what you have spent in this account in total. On the left: the money spent, on the right: the amount of purchases.

Image by whatsonweibo.com

Since I’ve used started using this Taobao account for the occasional clothes shopping since 2016, I’ve made 122 purchases, spending 7849 yuan ($1140) – a very reasonable amount compared to some other Taobao users, who are now finding out they could have practically bought an apartment with the money they have spent on Taobao.

This user, for example, found out they spent over half a million yuan on Taobao ($75,500).

Image via whatsonweibo.com

This user below has spent over 1,1 million yuan on Taobao ($170,000).

Some people discuss all the things they could have bought with the money they have spent on Taobao over the years: “As soon as I saw the number, I wanted to cry,” one Weibo user writes: “What have I done?!”

Another person, finding out they have spent 230,000 yuan on Taobao ($33,400), writes: “This can’t be true! Surely this must be a mistake!?”

“If I wouldn’t have spent all this money on Taobao, I would’ve been rich,” others say.

The topic of Taobao’s total spending amount has become so popular on Chinese social media this week, causing so much consternation, that Taobao posted a message on its Weibo account on July 27, writing: “We heard you guys couldn’t sleep last night..”

Although many people are shocked to find out the money they’ve spent on Taobao, others console themselves with the thought that adding up everything they have spent on Taobao, they were actually ‘rich’ at some point in their lives.

 

By Manya Koetse , with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Summer Censorship: Weibo Launches “Project Sky Blue”

No hot summer on Weibo: the social media network announces extra censorship on ‘vulgar content.’

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Earlier this week, the administration of Sina Weibo announced a special summer holiday crackdown on “vulgar content,” including “pornographic novels, erotic anime, pictures or videos.”

In a public announcement that was posted on July 4th, the Weibo administration writes that the primary goal of this campaign is to “create a healthier, more positive environment for underage users” during the summer break period.

The censorship plan is titled “Project Deep Blue” (or: “Project Sky Blue”) (蔚蓝计划), and will use filter systems, human moderators and user reports to censor more content for the upcoming two months.

The project even has its own Weibo account now, where Weibo users can ask questions, report inappropriate content, and get more information on the campaign.

Weibo states it will further expand its team of online content supervisors, and also explicitly encourages netizens to flag ‘inappropriate’ content to make the online community ‘more wholesome.’

The hashtag #ProjectDeepBlue (#蔚蓝计划#) topped the hot search lists on Weibo this week; not necessarily because of the topic’s popularity, but because it was placed there by the social media site’s administration. At time of writing, the hashtag page has attracted more than 180 million views.

Online responses to the summer censorship program are mixed: many commenters voice their support for the latest measure, while others express frustration.

One Weibo user from Hubei calls the latest measure “hypocritical,” arguing that minors surf Weibo just as much during school time as during the summer holiday – suggesting that launching a special censorship program for the summer vacation does not make sense at all.

But many popular comments are in favor of the project, saying: “I support Project Deep Blue, the internet needs to be cleaned up,” and: “China’s young people need to be protected.”

This is not the first time Weibo launches a special intensified censorship program. Throughout the years, it has repeatedly carried out ‘anti-pornography‘ campaigns in cooperation with Chinese cyberspace authorities.

Often, the crusade against ‘vulgar’ content also ends up being used for the purpose of censoring political content rather than to actually eradicate ‘obscenities’ (read more).

By now, it seems that many Weibo users are quite actively using the Project Deep Blue tag to report on other users who are posting violent or vulgar content.

“If you’re not careful, you’re hit with vulgar and obscene content the moment you’re on the internet,” well-known mom blogger Humapanpan (@虎妈潘潘) writes: “Now that the summer holiday is coming, I hope we can join the Project Deep Blue, and clean up the internet environment.  Actively report obscene content the moment you see it – let’s protect our future together.”

By Skylar Xu & Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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