Human Flesh Search

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Human Flesh Searches, also called renrou sousuo, have become a common occurrence on internet forums, like MOP and, in the People's Republic of China over recent years. Human flesh searches begin with a post in an online forum, bulletin, or blog, calling for netizens to conduct a search on someone who they believe has committed a crime against society, for which they have not been held accountable for. After a post has been made, the online community begins an investigation. They would gather information on the incident and the party involved. Once the human flesh search has started, netizens share any information they find by publicly posting it onto the forum. This typically includes details about the crime and any of the target's personal information, such as: credit card numbers, home address, work address, names of friends and family members, email accounts, and phone numbers. Netizens use this information to persecute the subject of the search online and off, as a way of upholding justice through accountability. Victims of human flesh searches are often fired from their jobs, expelled from school, and forced to move, due to the amount of intense harassment and public humiliation caused by the search. Human flesh searches are one way citizens of the People's Republic of China can overcome government censorship, exercise political dissent, and remove corrupt officials.


The term "Human Flesh Searches" originally referred to searches that were human-driven[1]. The online-community-driven searches began in 2001 when a male netizen posted a picture of Chen Ziyao on the MOP forum, and claimed he was was her boyfriend. Other forum users found that she was actually a model for Microsoft and they posted her personal information in the forum to expose the netizen's lie. This incident is noted as marking the start of human flesh. searches[2].

Notable examples

Wang Jiao shown placing the kitten on the sidewalk. She then proceeds to stomp on the kitten with the point of her heel.

The Cat Abuse of Wang Jiao

In 2006, Wang Jiao posted a video showing her stomping on a kitten to death with her stilettos on[3]. People immediately responded with comments of anger. One user even stated "Find her and kick her to death like she did to the kitten."[4] The search received significant media attention and it took less than a week for Wang Jiao to be identified and located after users on the MOP forum website identified the location of where the video was filmed and named the target of their search, the "Kitten Killer of Hangzhou." They gathered Jiao's personal information and found that the woman in the video was Wang Jiao, a 41-year old nurse from the Province of Heilongjiang[4]. As a result, Wang Jiao and the man who shot the video both lost employment with the government and Wang Jiao fled from her home. This incident is similar to the anonymous members of 4chan deciding to avenge "Dusty the Cat" after a video was posted by Kenny Glenn in the United States. Kenny was also penalized for his actions, but to a lesser extent, due to the fact that he was just a juvenile at the time he made the video of him abusing Dusty.

The suicide of Jiang Yan

Vandilization of Wang Fei's Home- "A blood debt must be repaid with blood"

In 2007, Wang Fei and his mistress Dong Fang were the subjects of a human flesh search because Wang's wife, Jiang Yan, committed suicide by leaping out of a 24-story building [5] when she found out about Dong Fang's infidelity [6]. Jiang Yan kept a private blog diary, which depicted the depression she felt as a result of her failed marriage. Jiang's friend, Zhang Leyi, started the search when she posted the blog diary entries on the forum. Wang Fei and Dong Fang's personal information was posted on the forum and their homes were vandalized. Wang Fei and Dong Fang were both fired from his job at Saatchi & Saatch after the company had been contacted by human flesh searchers. In 2008 Wang Fei sued Tianya and Zhang Leyi for violating his privacy and provoking the defamation of his character[7]. This was the first lawsuit against human flesh searches. A quote from Wang's lawyer, Zhang Yanfeng, “The human-flesh search has unimaginable power. First it was a lot of phone calls every day. Then people painted red characters on his parents’ front door, which said things like, ‘You caused your wife’s suicide, so you should pay.’ ” [4]

South China tiger photos incident

One of Zhou's Fraudulent South China Tiger Photos
2002 Lunar New Year Poster used by Zhou

Also in 2007, Zhou Zhenglong became the target of a human flesh after making claims that he had seen and photographed a critically endangered South China Tiger in Wencai Village on October 3rd. Zhou was a 52-year-old farmer who received 20,000 yuan for two his photographs from the Forestry Department of Shaanxi Provence. The department released the photos at a conference on October 12th. Members of the Forestry Department stated that experts had confirmed the authenticity of the photograph. However, netizens questioned if the picture had been photoshopped. A discussion began about different aspects of the photo that appeared to have been processed by photoshop technologies, such as areas of irregular focus and illumination. Also three photographs of the tiger from different angles showed the tiger's stripes in the same position, indicating that the tiger in the picture was two-dimensional. An expert confirmed that the photo was fake by analyzing the type of plants around the tiger and their relative sizes. It was later discovered that the paper tiger in the picture was taken from a 2002 Lunar New Year poster. Police seized the poster from Zhou and seven Forestry Department officials, including Sun Chengqian, the department's deputy director, were fired for failing to identify that the photographs were fabricated. It is believed the department legitimized the photo to increase tourism in the area. Furthermore, many feel that Zhou Zhenglong could not have fabricated the photos alone and that he was just a scapegoat in the department's plan to increase their tourism business. Zhou was arrested for fraud in June 2008 and had to appear in court on September 13th[8].

Government official

In 2008, Chinese netizens conducted a human flesh search to seek out a government official after his attempt to molest a young girl was caught by surveillance video in a seafood restaurant in the city of Shenzhen. In this particular human-flesh-search, the security tape footage in question was posted to a forum. The footage depicts a young girl leading the government official in white to the restroom, followed by her running up to her parents and brother while Chinese subtitles explain that an older man (the government official) had tried to force the girl into the bathroom to molest her. The video continues to show the girl’s father and the older man arguing; the subtitles read that the man confesses to the crime while boasting of his power and position in the government. The search gathered personal information on the government official and found out what governmental position he held.[9] The commotion generated from the forum got the official fired, even though the police claimed that they did not have sufficient evidence to indict him.

Human-flesh-searches are a way for chinese citizens to go against the Chinese government in Internet censorship conflicts.[10]

Sichuan earthquake video

Zhang Ya posted a video monologue commenting on the earthquake that hit Sichuan China May 12th, 2008, making her a target of a search[11]. In her video she makes disrespectful comments regarding the victims, complaining about the catastrophe and stating that the earthquake was not strong enough. Netizens gathered extensive information on Zhang. She was expelled from school, and she also received a large number of death threats as a result of posting her monologue[12].

Ethical implications

Human flesh searching is a form of Internet stalking. It can be described as preying on an individual via information that can be found on the Internet; a type of cyberbullying. Some believe it is not ethical to invade a person's privacy on the internet, but if the information is out there, then no one can stop someone from looking up the information. On the other hand, many of the searches have revealed crimes being done in the offline world which are also clearly unethical. Human flesh searching is mainly popular in China where there is a different set of laws and legal process than in the United States, although the group Anonymous can be seen as a vibrant example of conducting flesh searches in America.

There are ethical questions raised about the censorship by the Peoples Republic of China, and whether it is ethical for citizens to find ways around this censorship. Whether or not one agrees with this censorship, it is undoubtedly unethical to perform such cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Even when the motivation behind conducting these searches may be ethical and for the better of a community, it does not justify the invasion into others personal lives. Human search fleshing often leads to a crossing of the line between harmless online actions and real-life consequences. It is difficult to say that the exposure of criminals, such as a molester, is unethical, but unethical actions by one person does not lead to justification of unethical actions by others. These searchers are acting as vigilantes, trying to enforce an ethical code without fair trial. A human-flesh-search must throw out some red flags in most individuals code of ethics, everyone deserves the right to a fair chance to explain themselves. Someone could be crucified by a human-flesh-search party that caught wind of an embellished rumor. Vigilantes are criminals in most countries because ethical codes are too big to be decided by an individual or even a small group. Consequently, that is why justice systems are in place.

The ability to conduct human flesh searches in the first places calls into question ethical issues surrounding the moral accountability of artificial agents, such as the search engines with which people could find targets. Luciano Floridi defines moral agency as "an interactive, autonomous, and adaptable transition system that can perform morally qualifiable actions"[13] Under this definition, search engines used to conduct human flesh searches could be interpreted as morally accountable. As they conduct searches which invade people's privacy and provide the results to human flesh searchers, search engines are an example of an artificial agent which can be held morally accountable (without necessarily being held morally responsible, which is separate in Floridi's information ethics).

See Also


  1. O'Brien, Chris. "The Human Flesh Search Engine." Forbes. 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  2. Joy. "Internet top ten famous human search events." Industry Information Station. 2011-09-22. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  3. "Hangzhou Kitten Killer." KnowYourMeme.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Downey, Tom."China’s Cyberposse." The New York Times. 2011-03-3. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  5. O'Brien, Chris. "The Human Flesh Search Engine." Forbes. 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  6. "Suicide MM's Blog." '"EastSouthWestNorth. 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  7. McLaughlin, Ryan. "Human flesh search engines–crowd-sourcing 'justice'." 2009-01-28. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  8. "The South China Tiger Photographs." EastSouthWestNorth. 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  9. Security camera footage on Youtube
  10. Smith, S. (2011, September 20). Human flesh search engines Current Intelligence, Retrieved from
  11. 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. Wikipedia. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  12. "Human Flesh Search Engine." Knowyourmeme.
  13. Floridi, Luciano, and J.W. Sanders. "Information Ethics group." Information Ethics group. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>.

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