China’s Human Flesh Search Engines

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I’m not super into straight-up repostings of other people’s repostings of links, but I am sufficiently skeeved by an article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine that I can’t help it.

It’s a piece about a practice, apparently (the evidence is compelling but anecdotal) increasingly common in China: somebody gets caught doing something awful, or apparently awful, on video. The video is posted online. Crowdsourced sleuthery identifies the person in the video, and then people are encouraged to find and harass the person.

The example that this (excellent) piece leads with is a sex video of a woman stamping a kitten to death with spike heels. Apparently the video was real, people deduced the identity of the woman, tracked her to a small town in China, and ran her out of said town.

What’s compelling about the piece is that my first reaction was, yay, the kitten-stamper got what was coming to her. Followed moments later by boo, this is an Internet-fueled flash lynch mob. The boo reaction got more pronounced when I read about this same treatment being handed out to a woman, an undergrad, who attempted to mediate between pro-Tibet and pro-China protesters. That monster! Why didn’t she just stomp a few kittens while she was at it!

But it’s not hard to see why this happens. What is hard to believe is that it will remain a primarily Chinese phenomenon. There are a couple examples from the U.S., and they’re probably not the last.

Anyway read the piece.