Search (and Destroy) Engines

Search (and Destroy) Engines

Wang Jue was going through a difficult time in her life, feeling distraught and powerless. She connected with cameraman Li Yuejun and together they committed an extremely sadistic act, unforgivable and senselessly violent. William Gibson says the "The street has its own use for things." The Internet decided that Yuejun and Jue would pay.

There is a new movement being fueled by emotions ranging from revulsion to rage pulsing through the veins of the internet. It’s a 21st century update to the old school lynch mobs. Thousands have joined in and believe it’s an efficient way to make criminals answer to the netizens. With three billion Internet users, attempts to hide will only add thrill to the chase. With all eyes fixed to computer screens, people all over the world watch in fascination as this force continues to define itself. It is called "ren rou sou suo". The phrase is Chinese and can be translated directly as "human flesh hunting" or "human flesh search engine". It simply means an Internet search that is being powered by people with retribution and people’s justice on their minds.

The case involving Li Yuejun and Wang Jue is the best known example of this phenomenon to date. In a video that was widely distributed in February of 2006, Wang Jue holds a tiny grey kitten in her hands as she gazes at it lovingly. The cat makes soft meowing noises as she places it on the ground and with her gold tone high heels she impales the kitten’s head through the eye socket. The kitten cries out in pain. The scene continues until the skull is stomped and the kitten is silenced with death in a pool of blood.

China doesn’t have clear laws against animal cruelty. But the netizens of China didn’t need any laws to support them when they condemned the women, now named "Kitten Killer of Hangzhou."

Search (and Destroy) EnginesShortly after the video was uploaded, enraged masses mobilized online to find her. Traditional media was then alerted and joined in the hunt. Less than a week later, volunteer cyber sleuths were able to discover her location by analyzing the background of the video. Then they matched the shoes worn in the video to an online purchase. With this information they uncovered her identity and address. These details were posted online and she was attacked with thousands of phone calls and threats. She was mercilessly shamed, lost her job, and was forced to post a video apology online where she acknowledged her actions and asked for forgiveness.

There have been several other incidents in China where the human flesh search engines have had a major impact on the lives of their target, raising new questions about our rights as individuals.

A foul-mouthed girl called Gao Qianhui posted a video blog (vlog) of a rant in which she mocked the suffering of Sichuan earthquake victims even as over a billion fellow Chinese citizens mourned. The vlog was posted on almost all major Chinese discussion forums.. Almost instantly, Gao became hunted. Her personal details were discovered and after they were made public, one netizen ordered "Now humiliate her!" She was held in police custody for three days on charges of endangering public stability.

In August of 2008, a man named Wang Fei was cheating on his wife, Jiang Yan. While her husband vacationed with his mistress, she blogged about her emotional pain and then leapt 24 stories to her death. The entries were then circulated and the netizens decided that Jiang Wang should be avenged. The human flesh search engine again assembled and combined efforts to find out Wang Fei’s personal details. He was bombarded with calls to his home and office and received hundreds of threats. Slogans were painted on his door such as "Blood must be repaid with blood." He was forced to resign from his position as a high profile executive at the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency in Beijing.

It has been suggested that this recent rise in online vigilantism was unique to China, partially because so many involved are educated but underemployed. For thousands of years, China was the source of social innovations, and with the world’s biggest crowds and a new focus on crowdsourcing "justice"; China may again have generated a civilization-wide advance in governance. It is becoming apparent that the idea virus has scaled the Chinese Wall to move, pitchforks and torches held aloft, across the oceans to infect other netizens, including those in the United States.

Dusty is a short hair cat from Lawton, Oklahoma. On February 15, 2009, he was picked up by a boy in a mask and repeatedly slammed against the wall. As Dusty caterwauled, the boy shouted, "I hate you and you hate me!" while his brother recorded it all on video. The video was posted online. The response was fierce and furious. Thousands posted about it on bulletin boards and spread the disturbing footage. By carefully observing the background details in the video, the footage was linked to a boy named Kenny Glenn.

The uproar grew online and reached into Kenny’s town, school and home. Dusty was rescued and the boys were taken into custody. Other videos of animal abuse were discovered in their home.

It was less than 24 hours from the time the video was uploaded to the time the boys were in custody. Netizens are the new Jack Bauer.

For these particular animals, the ordeal has ended and they can be thankful to the netizens. But for the boys responsible for their abuse, this is just the beginning. Comanche County Sheriff Kenny Stradley says the boys will face criminal charges. And here’s the shocker: It was less than 24 hours from the time the video was uploaded to the time the boys were in custody. Netizens are the new Jack Bauer.

Human flesh search engines are painting digital bull’s-eyes on the backs of increasingly powerful people. Even government officials like Chen Hua, Deputy Director of the Internet News Management Department of the Beijing Internet Propaganda Management Office, are targets. An anonymous author posted an article in January of 2009. He said that his daughter is a personal associate of Mr. Chen. According to the author, Chen told her, "The netizens’ freedom of expression is given by me [Chen Hua]. I give them as much as I please." This news has been widely distributed and China’s netizens are clearly outraged. The article has been spread, linked, blogged about and widely discussed. The human flesh search engine discovered his personal information and offered it up to the masses to do with it what they please. The attacks continue even now.

Search (and Destroy) Engines

Inside of China, many posts regarding Mr. Chen have been removed and searches that include his name and position are being blocked. However, none of the efforts to silence the news have been successful. Netizens quickly redirected their information via Twitter, social networking sites, private email and chat programs. It’s become a new Internet arms race, search and destroy engines vs. senior officials. If Mr. Chen goes down, few will feel comfortable taking his job. The search and destroy playbook will have been written.

Let’s hope that human flesh search engines will have a collective intelligence that doesn’t too much resemble the witch burnings and mob lynchings of the past. Gao Qianhui was attacked for expressing her point of view — however reprehensible it may be. Her life will be changed forever by this incident.

On the other hand, Chen Hua was targeted for trying to limit freedom of expression. Fortunately, human flesh search engines don’t end the lives of their victims, like the witch-hunts or lynching of the past. We will not know for some time how these cyber-hunts will shape the future of our privacy, freedom of speech and sense of justice and security. But there is no doubt that these cases are just the beginning a vast social change taking place right now. What we can see from these incidents is that the flow of information will no longer be controlled and that the power of public outrage will not easily be quelled.

Kitten Killer of Hangzhou and her cameraman will walk away from their brutal act.. An apology is hardly appropriate recompense for the death of the tiny tortured feline. But these small stories will remain a part of our collective human memory and help guide the decisions of future societies, because the Internet does not forget, does not forgive and cannot be stopped. Ever.


49 Responses

  1. J.T. says:

    I want to know the ultimate fate of that bitch Wang Jue, did she ultimately get killed? I truly hope so, a cold, heartless killer like that does NOT deserve to live! Nor does the cameraman! Both should die by having their eyes gouged out by a sumo wrestler wearing stilletos before having their necks snapped in two by that same sumo wrestler.

    God, if I was the President of a Nation, I’d indict what I’d call the “Hammurabi Act” in that if video clearly shows you killing a dog or cat in such an obscene way, regardless of what country you live in, you’d be made an “honorary citizen” of my country, hunted down, tried, found guilty and killed in the same way you killed that animal. End of story!

    I am glad though, that there were people in China that stood up and found the kitten killer. Just a shame they didn’t make good on their death threats against her, an apology is NOT acceptable, if she isn’t dead already, she needs to die plain and simple!

  2. Valkyrie Ice says:

    This is simply put one of the single most encouraging stories I have read in a long time.

    It’s the beginnings of a true global collective, a superorganism if you will. The internet is slowly becoming it’s nervous system and humanity itself is becoming it’s brain.

    I’ve been watching it closely for the last year. It’s definitely not perfect, but it really is the beginning of a true democracy and entirely new system of government, one of total transparency and accountability.

    In the USA, it has been slowly but surely changing our political system. Sure, it’s been used by hate groups, and radicals and everything in between, but just this last month I’ve been watching this very kind of process unfold since Obama became president.

    American politics has been corrupted to it’s very core for decades. It’s been just one of those accept it because you can’t change it sort of things. And it’s actually easy to understand how it happened. America just didn’t really have a way to keep it’s eye on washington, or the motivation.

    As early as the beginning of this month, it seemed corruption would ensure that nothing was going to change, that the big money manipulators would win yet again. But American outrage has been growing as well, because the internet has been focused so intently on DC. Sure Faux has been getting ever growing ratings, but I’ve started to realize it’s not because more people are agreeing with the right wing rhetoric, but because more and more people were joining in watching, more and more people were becoming a part of the process.

    And all of sudden, change is starting to look more likely. Only time is going to tell for certain, but I think I can see where a exponential knee curve is about to be reached.

    Using the internet as a shared nervous system, America is starting to take back it’s control over it’s own destiny and removing the parasites infesting it. I think by the end of Obama’s presidency, the American Government is going to have become what it was meant to be when envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

    These Flesh Search mobs are just a great example of how humanity is developing into a collective intelligence. Thousands of people worked together, some from pure rage, some from carefully considered rational principles. They identified a problem, and they, as a collective, corrected it.

    There’s going to be errors made. Yes, some innocents are going to suffer, but I think there will be far fewer than people will fear. This isn’t an impassioned lynch mob. It’s a self aware immune system developing to protect the collective. It used irrational emotion, , combined with considered thought, and created a non lethal elimination of a problem.

    There is a big difference there between what happened and simple “mob mentality” and I think as time goes on we will see a lot more “thought” and a lot less “mindlessness” from this.

    It’s just starting, it’s like a newborn, but I can see how it’s already starting to address those issues raised by one of the posters. It’s going to end up solving those problems he addressed, because those are dangers to the health of the collective as a whole, not just to those who suffer from them.

    I think as the net reaches more places and more and more people have access to it, we’re going to see a lot of injustices end, not just on the level of single individuals like those talked about in this article, but on every level of human civilization. Time and again the Net has proven it treats censorship and efforts to restrict it as damage to simply route around. No government is going to be able to control it or restrict it for long. We’re going to see dictatorships collapse not in bloody revolutions but by being routed out of existence.

    And it’s not because the net has some mystical power or is some living organism, but because the net allows humanity to connect like it never has before, and to act as it never has. To be a mob, but a mob with a heart and a brain.

    And maybe in the end, it is that collective that we humans will make as a single connected unit that will be the first “transhuman.”

  3. It might not end their lives, but the man who had an affair who’s wife killed herself could not find a job. In other cases people have had to keep moving, and are unable to find jobs, which means that they will not survive for very long or have to depend on others. Also these people go after the innocent. Like that University Student they branded a traitor, her family were attacked and had to go into hiding.

    I think these people can be helpful, but really these people gather to harass, punish, seek blood, where are they for the poor, hungry, the homeless? No where, they brand of justice is very short sighted.

  4. Anonymous says:

    All cat killers must die. Those poor cats will be avenged, someday. We don’t forgive, and we don’t forget.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I know its a weird reference but didn’t death note kinda have the same concept albeit dramatized a bit much. I’m not talking about the mind games in the series I’m talking about the notebook in which he killed whoever he thought wronged society. It poses interesting questions when we ask ourselves if killing anyone who slighted another would solve human cruelty or its inherent evil nature. I think that even if every person that had done something wrong (wrong defined by culture’s rules not the individuals; theoretically that is) at some point in there life would suddenly just fall over dead humans would still be partial good and partial evil and overall we balance each other out. Some good can lead to evil and some evil can lead to good, or ying-yang sort of thinking. That’s just my thoughts on the subject though.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Ha ha, mannn. What a bunch of pussiez, I can bet that 99,9% of those internet vigilantes piss in their pants when their boss/mom/dad/wife/husband even yell at them. Internet is a place for them to show off. I don’t like violence, but it is everywhere around. Go outside and be a superhero in your neighbourhood, don’t try to save some cat in distant part of the world, save the ones in your street, if you have the guts. And why only cats, is it IN or what. What about people dying from starvation, people killed everyday in so many ongoing wars, people dying from poverty. Yeahh let’s forget about so many important problems and let’s save only cats. Let’s DDoS some animal abuser and spend enormous amount of electricity on that ddos, it will raise heat level on Earth, and wipe another specie. I think that those so called avenges are initiated from governments, like some kind of modern bloody games, so people could forget how they are exploited.

    I remember 1999. and NATO bombing my country, with no reason, killing innocent people, dropping radioactive shit all over (generations are screwed because of that). And when bombing was at peak, all of the USA was more concerned about the destiny of dog trapped under the house in some small american city. You might call that concern about the animals, i call it idiocy, and an act of disrespect to other human beings.

    • Anonymous says:

      Point is not some DDOS attack today. Its a flash mob can show up at your door at anytime. Mobs get dangerous in numbers, let me see you handle 1000 people showing up at your door howling for your blood.

      Also information can be sold to those that are “interested”, credit FUBARed, job applications can be rejected, cops can get called on you for all sorts of stupid sh%t etc… Get into a bar fight and 15 people will film you and post it on youtube with link forwarded to the cops.

      In short, they aren’t being pussies. The examples in the article are just small examples of modern world we live in.

  7. Anonymous says:

    ‘And I have a howling mob that will roast you men of quality in the burning ashes of the forum’ Paraphrase of Brutus Rome Season 2

    While going after crime, corruption and police/government brutality is beneficial to society as a whole. I’m wary of vigilante justice which often gets the wrong guy. I’m also wary of a society that has the “lid” clamped down so hard on people’s private vices that there is no place to for JQ public to blow off steam. That boiler will in time explode.

    Anger and large crowds are easy to rile up for “political” purposes but difficult to control once that happens. Especially in a pressure cooker society where potentially 10 million people can know about your private business with that cute blond down the street that is not your wife.

    man this is making a good premiss for a cyberpunk game ;o)

  8. Nicolas says:

    On the one hand, if you upload a video, which may shock the public, in the world wide web, you should be ready for the possible consequences. The Court of crowd is extremely tight, as there are people who can manage the crowd and direct its actions for their own purposes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    damn rabble where’d i put that wmd

  10. Ken C. says:

    “Netizens are the new Jack Bauer.”

    What, netizens are Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda vehicles for torture?

  11. Amy Sunoon says:

    If the recent right wing extremest terrorist acts, fueled by the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, are taken in to consideration, the internet is just another vehicle to move people to try to set policy by mob rule. Corporate media plays a large role also.

    • Anonymous says:

      Fortunately we have people like them to stand up for the conservatives in America who are not so enthralled with Obama and his proposed changes.

      And I’m very much interested to know what attacks you speak of? You can’t equate the comments made by these pundits to the deadly ACTUAL terrorist attacks made by extremists (Muslims, T. McVeigh, etc).

      You should consider the gravity of the words you choose before lumping them in with people who talk on T.V. for a living… they’re hardly terrorists.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You forgot the story of dog-poop girl in Korea.

  13. Alex Spender says:

    Why not add to this concept a small group of full-time dedicated killers who would be tasked by the uber-organization to reach out and kill the subjects in the same manner they displayed. They would be volunteers, all either ex-military or active serial killers given Presidential Pardons in Perpetuity. Personally, I am itching to take those kids who burned the cat and crucify them with rain gutter spikes from Home Depot, soaking them in tar and kerosene and setting them on fire. Actually, I believe that there should be a public TV channel which broadcasts such People’s Retribution Acts 24/7 …. think of the possibilities? First we seek out and immolate the Politicians. I mean, after all, how difficult is it to find a crooked politician? Then, follow with Public School administrators and useless “Bored of Education” drones who obfuscate and otherwise construct education systems which smother our children instead of enlighten them. OK, now we needs to do a survey on who is in line as #3 …. Used Car Dealers? Telemarketers? Spammers? The possibilities are virtually endless. The potential for personal and societal expiation is absolute.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It really is a great story. My favorite part is where they stoned the kitten-killing bitch until the flesh was flayed from her glamorous little face and then when they dumped a half-gallon of honey over her and left her buried up to her neck in fire ant country.

    What? It didn’t? No? Aw, shucks.

    Never mind.

    The technological miracle of the Internet: making that special little reserved place in Hell a reality anyone can experience.

  15. Anonymous says:

    “It has been suggested that this recent rise in online vigilantism was unique to China

    China may again have generated a civilization-wide advance in governance.”


    Utter nonsense.

    Who made that claim exactly?

    This is NOT unique to China, and was NOT started there.

    • Rachel Coleman says:

      Yeah, it’s not completely unique to China. The article states that. But the attempt (and failure in these cases) to control the flow of information is unique in China. The fact that those who control the internet are now targets really takes the practice to a new level in my opinion.

      Here is the quote I found on from an expert on the subject who believed the phenomenon was unique to China;

      “I do believe that “human flesh search,” in terms of its large scale and angry connotation, is unique to China.

      For one thing, China’s population makes it easy to mobilize a large number of netizens to participate in such a search, especially considering that there are many smart and reasonably well educated people in China who are intellectually underemployed.

      For another, privacy is not a traditional Chinese concern, and there is no clear law to punish exposing someone’s personal information on-line. Chinese also believe that “the law does not restrict the masses.” Combine this with a culturally based inquisitiveness that does not have any strong tradition of respecting privacy, and you get people who are willing to go out (or stay in) and gather information to be propagated to others.” – Xujun Eberlein

  16. thomas says:

    i hardly think that a regression to lynch mobs qualifies as a “civilization-wide advance in governance”. at least in america, there’s something called innocent until proven guilty that, while the cases mentioned above clearly targeted the offending individuals, if allowed to flourish would eventually lead to vigilante wannabes burning thousands of innocents at the stake. history has shown time and time again that large masses of people can only be counted on to do one thing, and that is to act foolishly.

    • Anonymous says:

      VIdeo footage would be a closed case. Animal torturers deserve what they get.

      • Flanders says:

        Agreed. But observe:
        “An anonymous author posted an article in January of 2009. He said that his daughter is a personal associate of Mr. Chen. According to the author, Chen told her, “The netizens’ freedom of expression is given by me [Chen Hua]. I give them as much as I please.””

        An anonymous author posting a single comment brought that on? Hell, since it’s that easy, I can think of a lot of people who could benefit from an anonymous comment informing the world of their indiscretions. Even if I do have to fabricate those indiscretions — after all, /I/ know they’re bad people.

    • Rachel Coleman says:

      Proven how? Our flawless justice system?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting, and far more prevalent over in the West than perhaps this article allows for. People are increasingly angry and there is a segment of the population trying to regain some sense of empowerment. 4chan’s /b/ bulletin board is probably at the heart of this — at turns vile, puerile, boring, glorious and furious, it’s a demented archon. Heaven help anyone who tries to manipulate the power it represents, though.

    The times, they are a’changing…

    • Anonymous says:

      that would be /i/ not /b/

    • Rachel Coleman says:

      4chan is certainly responsible for a great deal of internet vigilantism. You’re right in saying that it was at the heart of some of the intances being reported on here, especially in saving Dusty.

      4chan is both powerful and deserving of mention on this topic. I must admit, I was just conflicted about how to address this because of the range of methods that 4chan uses it’s influence, if you know what I mean?

      But thank you very much for you comment and insight on the subject.

      And thank you to 4chan for saving Dusty.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The real lesson here is that the internet loves cats.

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