Saturday, September 13, 2008



By Kevin Stoda, Kuwait

I came across a recent article by Tim Johnson on the abusive nature of internet vigilantes in China.

The article, entitled "Web Vigilante Justice in China Draws Cry for Reform", begins by outlining the case of one victim of China's historical lack of support for citizen rights.

The parent's of the (internet victim)man's wife had claimed that this husband had done immoral things, which ultimately led to their daughter's suicide.

The injured parents put their story on the internet.

Within a few days, the modern world of Chinese "human flesh search engines" were "revved up".

These online search practices are "what Chinese Internet users call their Web hunts". Johnson explains, "They appealed to fellow Chinese to ferret out information about the philandering husband and humiliate him. They posted photos of Wang Fei [the husband] and details about his job, his car's license-plate number and his national ID number. Even his parents were drawn into the fray."

They were physically threatened and taunted by phone and graffiti.

The victim of this manhunt, Wang Fei, has since filed lawsuits against three of the "human flesh search engine" sites.

Johnson writes, "Worried by Internet manhunts, some legislators from the National People's Congress, China's largely ceremonial assembly, late last month proposed amendments to the criminal code to imprison for up to three years employees of government offices, and financial or educational institutions, who are found to leak personal information about people who are victims of 'human-flesh search engines.'"

In his short article, Johnson identifies 5 other persons in China found to be victims of web vigilantism. One of those had simply bemoaned the fact that China could not have a calm dialogue about Tibet. She and her family were treated as a national set of heretics and abused by many.


According to Johnson, " Experts [in China] say the phenomenon is far wider than simple vigilante justice. In some cases, Internet users have banded together to expose fraud, knock down charlatanism or in one case, to help the wife of a soldier deployed to an earthquake-devastated area of China. In a nation where information is controlled, a thirst for greater flows of information is growing, and people sometimes band together to gather it."

In a way, this sort of youthfully inspired vigilantism echoes back to the era of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s when the gang mentality of vigilantism was raised to record-breaking standards as youth turned on by defaming and taking strikes at their elders, their teachers and any fallen-from-grace public official. In those days, the victims of youthful vigilantism were bullied and spat upon—even killed or sent into internal exile or hard labor.

One positive recent trend in China is that current polls find 41% of those surveyed stating that such search engine sites abused peoples privacy and their should be criminal penalties for such activities on the web.


What about other users on the web these days all around the planet? Do we need now need some (international) officials working both nationally and internationally to stop webuser vigilantism and web abuse of private persons?

I am beginning to think that the time is coming.

This was especially true for me after I did a quick search yesterday on Google for the name of a friend, who has worked in labor advocacy and labor unions for the past two decades in California.

We will call this friend Jean Q.

I clicked on the fourth hit under her name, Jean Q, under yesterday's Google search.

To my astonishment and sickening sense of horror, someone had placed a false link there by her name.

What I found in front of me was a porn site and it was not Jean Q or parts that were being displayed.

I pondered immediately who was using the web to attack this labor leader, Jean Q –what she had done to whom to make them abuse her. Had she stood up for worker rights one time too often?

That abusive porn site was so powerful that I was unable to click the browser off immediately. In a way it was acting like a bad virus—but luckily this pseudo virus disappeared once I rebooted my computer—or at least I hope so.

Anyway, to get to the point, I was so angry at the momentary defamation on the web of my friend, Jean Q, that I would have to say I had become fully committed to asking web users worldwide to identify these scoundrels who defame people—for whatever political or personal reason.

Then I'd have also liked to have been able to turn them into either local or international authorities.

If there is no law in your country against such defamation of people on the web, consider talking to your government representatives about doing something to stop abuse—even if it means setting up international agreements and an international agency to monitor such abuse.

I've calmed down a bit today.

I searched for Jean Q today and Google has apparently taken that link off.

Meanwhile, I'm still interested. What do you think about vigilantism on the web and are there any benefits?

If not, what can we do about it?



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