Thinking about privacy: some Red Flag comments on the human flesh search engine

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This response to a sent-in letter was published in Red Flag Magazine on 21 May. It discusses, at an extremely superficial level, different privacy-related regimes around the world. It identifies China’s well-known human flesh search engine phenomenon as being particularly unique to China, although privacy issues are a topic of interest and concern around the world as well. I could not find two of the legal documents it cites, the purported U.S. “Provisional Citizen Online Privacy Rights Protection Regulations” and EU “Common Principles for the Protection of Individual Privacy on the Internet”, through a quick Google search, and would appreciate information as to which documents these really are – or whether these perhaps are fictitious. Interestingly, the article refers to the need for a rights-based approach in dealing with privacy issues online, in order to avoid majoritarian dictatorship. 

Do Western Countries Permit the “Human Flesh Search Engine?” Question: Comrade Editor, greetings. Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of “human flesh search engine” incidents, the problem that the individual right to privacy is infringed is also increasingly prominent. I’d like to ask, do similar incidents occur in Western countries? Do they permit “human flesh search engines”? Anhui reader, Li Jian Comrade Li Jian: Greetings! It is as you said in your letter, because the enormous number of netizens who participate in “human flesh search engines”, they have a huge and inestimable power in searching for and providing information and clues, their “intelligence” also can also definitely not be compared with machine technology and other such measures. The “human flesh search engine” is similar to a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it brings a powerful moral standard for and public opinion supervision over social life through the network; on the other hand, it extremely easily infringes individual privacy rights, and even gives easy rise to the spread of network violence. The “human flesh search engine” is something that many Chinese netizens are fond of. From to “cat abuse woman” in Tianya to the boastful housing bureau director “Zhou Jiugeng”, and the smiling bureau director “Yang Dacai”, as well as to “Guo Meimei”, showing off her wealth online, as well as the “Huanan Tiger Picture”, “Dead Blogs” and other incidents, the “human flesh search engine” has increasingly displayed the power and killing force of the Internet. Nowadays, marital unfaithfulness, animal abuse, household violence and even publishing articles may run into the “human flesh search engine”, as long as you are “hot” enough. The English “Times” newspaper evaluated thusly: “The “human flesh search engine” is a uniquely Chinese phenomenon in this digital era”. The American “Los Angeles Times” believes that “China’s “human flesh search engine” outshines Interpol”. In fact, the “human flesh search engine” was invented in China first. Inside the country, netizens are able to relatively autonomously publish their own opinions through the network, this is the most important factor why the “human flesh search engine” could spread like wildfire in China. Even though “human flesh search engine” incidents also occur abroad, it is not as grave as in China, because abroad, management is extremely strict. In the United States, where the Internet is omnipresent, “human flesh search engine” incidents aren’t often seen. The United States pays extreme importance to the protection of individual data and privacy, and has respectively published the “Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act”, the “Provisional Citizen Online Privacy Rights Protection Regulations”, the “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” and other laws and regulations, to punish online infringement incidents. According to reports, on 18 August 2009, a women in the U.S. state of Missouri, Elizabeth Thrasher, used “human flesh search engine” methods to retaliate against a love rival, and posted individual private material of her 17-year old rival online, suggesting that she was looking for a one-night stand, this woman was accused of the crime of “cyber bullying” by the prosecutor, and was sued for a felony. In Japan, if private information of criminals or other victims appears online, the network management company can carry out some management, where the words used are overly sharp, it can be deleted. The “human flesh search engine” has also been lively in South Korea for a while, the Seoul Underground “Dog Dropping Lady” incident and the “Actress Choi Jin-Sil Suicide Due to Rumours” incident both promoted the establishment of an online real-name system in South Korea, which progressively calmed down the “human flesh search engine”. In South Korea, revealing other persons’ address and similar information online is an unlawful act. Even though the target of the “human flesh search engine” harmed the interests of other people, and even where they are “targets of public criticism”, legal channels should be sought to resolve matters, and it is not permitted for netizens to resolve them on their own. The European Union stresses the protection of individual materials through legislation, and promulgated the “European Union Individual Data Protection Directive”, the “Common Principles for the Protection of Individual Privacy on the Internet” and other corresponding laws and regulations, which established a unified legal and regulatory structure for online privacy protection in the member states. Since a number of years, many people have wrongly believed that the network could protect individual information that they therefore could speak out freely. But, following the development of all sorts of sorts of social interaction websites, the popularization of smartphones with photographing capabilities, as well as the development of all sorts of free photo-uploading websites, privacy has become the weakest link of the network. But even if obtaining individual information is so easy, proper freedom of speech and social evaluation should still be established on the basis of respecting individual rights. Societies sacrificing individual rights to obtain “justice” are disordered and fearful, they are no different from drinking poison to quench thirst. There are netizens who say that this term “human flesh search engine” lets people’s backs feel chilly, the level of terror of its literal meaning and the killing power they have in reality are cut from the same cloth. In the era of the information explosion, today, the “human flesh search engine” goes after someone else, tomorrow, it’s you, if this sort of “tyranny of the majority” becomes fashionable in the entire country, all of us may meet with such “treatment”.

  西方国家允许“人肉搜索”吗? 问:编辑同志,您好。近些年,“人肉搜索”事件越来越多,个人隐私权被侵犯的问题也越来越突出。请问,西方国家有没有类似事件?他们允许“人肉搜索”吗? 安徽读者:李建 李建同志: 您好!正如您信中所说, “人肉搜索”由于海量网友的参与,在搜寻和提供信息、线索方面,具有难以估量的巨大威力,它的“智能性”也远非机器技术等手段可以比拟。 “人肉搜索”就如同一把双刃剑。一方面通过网络对社会生活进行有力的道德规范、舆论监督;另一方面极易侵犯个人的隐私权,甚至还容易引起网络暴力的蔓延。 “人肉搜索”为许多中国网友所热衷。从天涯“虐猫女”,到最牛房产局长“周久耕”、微笑局长“杨达才”,再到网络炫富“郭美美”,以及“华南虎照片”、“死亡博客”等事件,“人肉搜索”越来越显示出互联网的威力和杀伤力。如今,婚姻不忠、虐待动物、家庭暴力,甚至发表文章都会遭到“人肉搜索”,只要你足够“火”。 英国《泰晤士报》如此评价:“‘人肉搜索’对于这个数字化时代而言,就是一个独特的中国现象。”美国《洛杉矶时报》认为:“中国的‘人肉搜索’让国际刑警组织都黯然失色。” 的确,“人肉搜索”最先由中国人发明。在国内,网民能够通过网络较为自主地发表自己的见解,这也是“人肉搜索”能在中国如火如荼的最主要原因之一。尽管国外也有“人肉搜索”事件发生,但没有中国这么严重,因为国外管理非常严格。 在互联网四通八达的美国,“人肉搜索”事件却并不常见。美国非常注重个人数据和隐私权的保护,先后制定了《联邦电子通讯隐私法案》、《公民网络隐私权保护暂行条例》、《儿童网上隐私保护法》等法律法规,对网络侵权事件加以惩罚。据报道,2009年8月18日,美国密苏里州妇女伊莉莎白—斯瑞雪为报复情敌,使出了“人肉搜索”的招数,将情敌17岁女儿的个人隐私资料贴到网上,并暗示她寻找一夜情,这名妇女被检察官控以“网络欺凌”罪,并遭到重罪起诉。 在日本,如果网络上出现了犯罪者或其他受害人的私人信息,网络管理公司就会进行一些管理,言辞过于激烈就会被删除。 “人肉搜索”在韩国也曾热闹过一时,首尔地铁“狗屎女”事件和“演员崔真实因传言自杀”事件一同推动了韩国网络实名制的确立, 让“人肉搜索”逐渐平静下来。在韩国,在网络上暴露他人的住址等信息是违法行为。即使“人肉搜索”的对象侵害了别人的利益,甚至已经是“众矢之的”,也应该寻求法律途径加以解决,网友自行解决是不允许的。 欧盟更加注重通过立法保护个人资料,先后通过《欧盟个人资料保护指令》、《因特网上个人隐私权保护的一般原则》等相关法规,在成员国内建立起有关网络隐私权保护的统一法律法规体系。 多年以前,很多人以为网络可以保护个人的隐私所以畅所欲言。但是,随着各种社交网站的发展,具有照相功能的智能手机的普及,以及各种可以免费上传照片网站的发展,使得隐私成为网络中最薄弱的环节。但即使获取个人信息再容易,正常的言论自由和社会评价也应建立在尊重个体权利的基础上。牺牲个体权利获取“正义”的社会是无序和可怕的,无异于饮鸩止渴。有网友就说,“人肉搜索”这个词让人后背凉飕飕,其字面意思之恐怖程度和其现实实践中的杀伤力如出一辙。在信息爆炸的年代,“人肉搜索”今天是他,明天就是你,这种“多数人的暴政”如果得以风行整个国家,我们每个人都可能遭受这样的“待遇”。

2 thoughts on “Thinking about privacy: some Red Flag comments on the human flesh search engine

    jinmaike said:
    May 24, 2013 at 3:13 am

    I think it’s a really interesting point: the HFSEs perform a cleansing role for society, depending on one’s point of view; there is a interesting distinction between vigilantes and secret police, between social networks and people’s acceptance of being tracked online by insidious corporate interests. One could argue there is greater cultural acceptance in China, especially taking into account past periods of ‘dobbing’ in your neighbours, colleagues etc for political impurity, protecting ‘collective rights’. This cultural acceptance does not raise the level of deabate so much as in liberal democracies where law is much more predicated on individual rights.

    Linar said:
    May 31, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Yes, it is absolutely unique to China, which is why the “witch hunts” and “doxxing” that exist in the Anglosphere online occur, and have occurred for many years. The sole difference is in the number who participate, but one would here point to the size of the virtual Sinospace vs that of the virtual Anglospace. The former has more users per service (and always has) due in no small part to the intensely regulated and insular market, whilst the latter has many times the services available and has for ages due to the earlier adoption amongst the (predominately) middle class users who make up the doxxing class.

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