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‘Human Flesh Search Engine’ over Swimming Pool Conflict Turns Fatal: Female Doctor Commits Suicide after Becoming Target of Online Witch Hunt

When social media is used as a weapon in a private conflict, it can actually kill people.

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What started with an argument in a swimming pool on Monday, resulted in a suicide on Saturday. The trending story of a young female doctor from Deyang shows just how devastating it can be to suddenly be in the eye of a social media storm.

 
Miranda Barnes contributed to this report.
 

A 35-year-old female pediatrician from Deyang city, Sichuan, has committed suicide by taking 500 sleeping pills when the stress she faced, after getting caught up in an internet witch hunt, became too much for her.

The story, that has gone viral on Chinese social media, starts on August 20. The woman, named An Yingyan (安颖彦), was swimming at a local swimming pool with her husband that evening when she collided with a boy, as the pool’s surveillance cameras also show.

What happened next is unclear – and also varies depending on different social media accounts and news reports. According to those on An Yingyan’s side, the boy, a 13-year-old who was there with his friend, actually harassed the woman and touched her bathing suit. When An demanded an apology from the boy, he refused, spitting her in the face and further insulting her instead.

According to those on the side of the boy, however, An and the 13-year-old only briefly touched when colliding, causing An to become angry with the boy. He responded to her by pulling a face.

Surveillance cameras do show what happened next, namely that the woman’s husband intervened by jumping over, pushing the head of the boy underwater and smacking him.

Lifeguards at the swimming pool told Sina News that they soon spotted the altercation and intervened. Both the boys and the couple left the pool and went into the dressing rooms to change.

An Yingyan’s husband and friends, speaking to Chinese reporters, later claim that An was beaten by the 13-year-old’s mother and two other females inside the female dressing room that evening.

An’s husband shows a photo of the bruises his wife suffered from the alleged attack in the dressing room (via Netease report).

Both parties reported the incident to local police, who tried to settle the conflict between the two families. As a result, the husband apologized to the 13-year-old for his agressive behavior.

 
Getting Social Media Involved: The Online Witch Hunt
 

But the incident was far from over.

The following day, on August 21, the boy’s family -who apparently found out where the doctor worked – came over to Dr. An’s hospital, demanding her to be discharged and telling about her alleged misdemeanor.

The story, including surveillance footage from the pool, was also posted on social media by a social media user (@鸣Mmmm) – suspected to be the boy’s mother, Mrs. Chang – writing: “Quickly come and look, a minor was publicly beaten by an employee of the Water Resources Bureau*, pushing the baby child down, wanting to kill him. Just because the child was not careful while swimming and bumped into his wife. He even immediately apologized!” [*An’s husband].

An Yingyan requested an absence from work on Tuesday (21st), and stayed home the rest of the week. The incident had made her nervous, her husband told reporters, and at home she could also accompany her little daughter, who was just about to attend school for the first time.

But the social media storm got worse. Within three days after the incident occurred, the name, telephone number, work address, function, photos, and all other private information of An Yingyan and her husband had leaked online via WeChat and Weibo, going viral across their town and local chat groups: they had become the target of an online witch hunt, or a so-called ‘human flesh search engine.’

“Human Flesh Search Engine” (Rénròu sōusuǒ yǐnqíng 人肉搜索引擎) is the Chinese term for the phenomenon of netizens distributing the personal information of individuals they feel ‘deserve’ public interest or scorn. Targets are often individuals who have disrupted public order in some way and have angered netizens for their behavior and actions. (Read more here).

 
The Tables are Turning
 

On Saturday, August 25, only five days after the swimming pool conflict took place, An Yingyan sat in her car and took 500 sleeping pills. When she was found, she was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she passed away.

Her husband told reporters this week that his wife had become overwhelmed by the online manhunt and media attention, and the impact it made on her life and family. She would sit in her car and cry for hours.

A trending online video of KNEWS (blurred) shows how doctors are trying to resuscitate the woman, her husband crying by her side.

The story of An Yingyan has now received overwhelming attention on Chinese social media. The hashtag “Dr. An from Deyang” (#德阳安医生#) received 31 million views on Wednesday, the hashtag on her suicide (#德阳女医生自杀#) getting over 3 million views, a news report by Netease was read nearly 160,000 times within hours after posting.

Some well-known social media accounts have now apologized for forwarding the story, expressing their sympathies towards Dr. An and her family. Many posts about the incident have since been deleted. One prominent account forwarding the story is titled ‘Deyang Expose King’ (@德阳爆料王), and many commenters especially blame this account for forwarding “false information.”

“The internet has made this excellent pediatrician kill herself,” some say. “You all have blood on your hands,” a popular Weibo post said (@夏天的风Tl): “You can delete your posts all you want, but you know your crime.”

Public sentiment has seemingly drastically turned around. Although many people criticized the doctor and her husband after the video and story were first posted online, they are now turning against the Chang mother and her family, blaming Mrs. Chang for misguiding public opinion to use it as a weapon against Dr. An.

“She’s a beast!”, some say: “No wonder the 13-year-old behaves like an animal, having been raised by one.”

Some netizens even call for another ‘human flesh search,’ this time targeting the Chang family.

Although a suicide triggered by an online witch hunt is at the center of this story, most netizens seemingly do not care about starting another one.

By Manya Koetse, contributions from Miranda Barnes

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.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ld Elon

    August 29, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    I love Chinese their so awesome.
    😀

  2. Julia

    August 31, 2018 at 5:16 am

    Sad. I despise social media for this reason and also when others get involved in something they don’t know a lick about. I feel sorry especially for An’s daughter and the children she could have helped.

  3. nathan chang

    September 2, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    The kind of behavior exhibited by ALL parties in this situation is typical of Chinese people in general. No one is innocent: not the doctor, not the kid, not the kid’s family, not the doctor’s husband, and most definitely not netizens. As is so frequent and typical in China, each aforementioned party behaved in ways that deliberately and pointlessly escalated the situation.

    The simple and sad reality is that the vast majority of the general population in China are driven by wanton pettiness, emotional decision making, vindictive attitudes, total lack of respect for human life, and greed. It will take many many more generations for the overall quality of the average Chinese person to reach a level commensurate with that of a truly civilized and developed nation. Until then, Chinese people must be ruled with an iron fist as they only understand and respond to force and coercion. I applaud the Chinese government’s methods as they truly understand Chinese people’s nature … best.

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China Digital

Key Players, Digital Trends & Deep Dives: China Internet Report 2021

SCMP just launched its latest China Internet Report. (And What’s on Weibo readers can get a 30% discount on the Pro Edition!)

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As China’s tech sector has been facing an ongoing crackdown by Beijing regulations, a lot has been changing in the country’s digital environment over the past year. The new China Internet Report 2021 by SCMP gives an overview of the latest trends and developments.

When it comes to China’s online landscape, nothing ever stays the same. Over the past year, political, economic, and social developments and measures have once again changed the Chinese digital environment.

Giving a comprehensive overview of the key leaders and major trends dominating the Chinese online field, South China Morning Post (SCMP) issued its fourth annual China Internet Report.

China’s internet population has now risen to 989 million – last year’s report indicated an internet population of 904 million. By now, there are 853 million mobile payment users, which indicates that over 86% of the entire mobile internet population uses mobile as a way to pay.

As China’s internet population is still growing, and new online startups are still popping up every day, there have been tightening regulations on multiple fronts.

As laid out in SCMP’s report, regulations mainly focus on the four areas of antitrust, finance, cybersecurity, and data privacy. Regulatory actions targeting the monopolistic behaviours of China’s biggest internet companies are still ongoing, and the new Data Security Law came into effect on September 1st of this year.

While Chinese tech companies are seeing increased scrutiny at home, they have also been facing intensifying geopolitical tensions between China and other countries. Over the past year, the various probes and shutdowns into Chinese companies by countries such as the US and India have meant a serious blow to the market share of Chinese apps.

Meanwhile, the SCMP report highlights the trend of various older and newer Chinese (e-commerce) apps “downplaying” their Chinese origins when entering foreign markets. Shein is a good example of this development, but other players including Zaful, Urbanic, and Cider are also experiencing more success outside of China while not explicitly marketing themselves as Chinese e-commerce apps.

Another noteworthy trend explained in the new report is how China’s shifting demographics are creating new niche segments to compete over. The COVID-19 crisis is partially a reason why China has seen an increase in senior internet users, with an increasing number of online products and content catering to the elderly.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) even issued special guidelines earlier this year for web pages and mobile apps to carry out so-called “elderly friendliness modifications.” Since this user group is still expected to see significant growth, the “silver economy” is an area that will only become more important in the years to come.

To check out all the main trends for 2021, China’s latest internet statistics, its top tech competitors, internet companies, and more, here’s a link to the free report.

The free report is 55 pages long and gives an overview of China’s latest internet numbers and players, covers the top cross-sector trends for 2021, including the tightening regulations and the bumpy road ahead for China’s tech IPOs.

The Pro Edition of China’s Internet Report 2021, also launched by SCMP, is 138 pages long and provides a deep-dive into ten relevant sectors – featuring insightful and useful analysis, data, and case studies relating to China’s e-commerce market, content & media, gaming, blockchain, fintech, online education, healthtech, smart cars, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence.

The China Internet Report Pro Edition is priced at US$400, but the team at SCMP has kindly reached out and made it possible for us to offer a special 30% discount to What’s on Weibo readers.

You’ll get the discount by using the discount code: WHATSONWEIBO30, or by clicking this link that will automatically include your discount code.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 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

How Social Media Is Speeding Up Zhengzhou Flooding Rescue Efforts

Chinese social media are speeding up local rescue efforts after Zhengzhou saw the heaviest rain in 1,000 years.

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Social media is utilized as a tool in the response to the floodings in Henan province. Once again, Weibo facilitates active public participation to provide immediate assistance to the people facing this natural disaster. 

On Tuesday, July 20, heavy rainfall caused major disruptions in the central province of Henan. The amount of rain over the last three days in Zhengzhou is reported to be the same as what it would usually receive in an entire year.

It is reported that Henan Province has initiated the highest-level emergency response to floods, and China’s State Flood Control and Drought Relief Bureau has dispatched a workgroup to Henan, initiating level III emergency response rescue work.

Since the evening of July 20, news and information streams on the heavy rains and floods have been dominating Chinese social media. In the midst of the disastrous events, Weibo has become an online space for people seeking help, those disseminating information on available resources, and for other related activities that help netizens engage in emergency management and accessing information.

The volume of such messages is huge, with thousands of netizens seeking ways to help speed up rescue work and actively contribute to the emergency relief efforts.

The organically improvised response protocol on social media includes the following guidelines:

  • Verify, summarize, highlight, and spread online help requests posted by people from different locations
  • Remind people to delete help-seeking posts once they have been rescued or have found assistance.
  • Disseminate relevant knowledge relating to emergency care and response, and public health information, such as how to deal with different disaster scenarios, warning people about the safety of drinking water during floods, etc.
  • Share information regarding mental health and psychosocial support during the different phases of the disaster.

 

When posts of people trapped by the heavy rain started to be published on Weibo, many online influencers, no matter what subject they usually focus on, participated in spreading help-request posts that were not getting a lot of online attention.

Erdi 耳帝, a music influencer with nearly 15 million fans on Weibo, has been retweeting the online posts of people asking for help since the night of July 20.

The social media influencer Erdi has been kept retweeting asking-for-help posts since the night of July 20.

An example of such an online emergency help request (求助贴) is the following post of July 21st, 17:15 local time:

Our entire neighborhood is cut off from water and electricity, the water level is rising to chest level, and we currently have no drinking water at the moment. Need help urgently.

Status: Verified, pending rescue.
Seeking help: Wu M**, phone 13*****27
Number of people to be rescued: five or six thousand
Location: Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, Zhengdong New District, Shangdu / Xuzhuang Street intersection, east courtyard of Shangdu Jiayuan Muzhuang district (we can’t exit the building, there is no water, no electricity, no supplies, and it’s been 24 hours)

Once people who have been trapped by the water are rescued, the user who published the post will delete the original post to make sure other emergency posts are also noticed and disseminated.

Some Weibo users engage in organizing scattered online information in one single post, e.g. posts regarding local electricity leakage, making this information more accessible and easier to understand.

One post that was among the top-shared ones this week, is a picture that includes contact information of rescue teams of both officials and civilians. When realizing that some people were unable to upload the picture due to poor internet connections caused by the heavy rain, an up-to-date and full-text version was quickly shared by netizens.

Some Weibo users listed various methods to get assistance for hearing-impaired and deaf-mute people affected by the floods, advising people to download various apps to help to communicate and translate.

Besides the more general practical advice and emergency action plans shared by Chinese social media users, there are also those who pay attention to the importance of personal hygiene during these times. Some are sending out information about menstrual hygiene needs during floods, reminding women to frequently change sanitary pads and try to keep the genital area clean and dry due to the risk of infection. A hashtag related to menstruation during the flooding momentarily ranked fifth in the top search lists (#河南暴雨 如果你出在经期<).

Information on mental health support is disseminated all across social media.

People also try to provide mental support in other ways. A student orchestra spontaneously performed at the Zhengzhou station, where dozens of passengers were left stranded in the night. The video clips of the performance went viral, with the young musicians playing two widely-known songs, “My People, My Country” (我和我的祖国) and “Ode to the Motherland” (歌唱祖国). Many social media users shared the clips and expressed how the performance moved them to tears.

Some video clips that show how ordinary people save ordinary people amid such a natural disaster have also been widely shared. One video shows citizens of Zhengzhou standing in a line and use a rope to pull people from an underground floor where they were trapped by the water flooded.

In all the aforementioned ways and many more, Weibo has become a public platform for Chinese people to respond to the Henan disaster, efficiently communicate and keep track of help requests, organize and disseminate related information, and provide access to timely knowledge and relevant advice.

With so many online influencers and ordinary netizens voluntarily joining in, the online information flows are quickly circulating, allowing for necessary public communication channels while other resources and communication methods are still overwhelmed or in the making. The last time Weibo was used as an efficient emergency communication tool was during the early days of the COVID19 outbreak in Wuhan.

“Please stand strong, Zhengzhou” and “Hang on, Henan,” many commenters write: “Help is underway!”

Also see our previous article on the situation in Zhengzhou here.

By Wendy Huang

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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