Human Flesh Search Engines’ “Identity Crisis”

Outlook Magazine (瞭望) covers the conflicting views of China’s human flesh search engines, or the use of Internet searches to monitor or expose individuals. Translated by CDT:

At the end of May, “Zhejiang Province’s Informatization Promotion Regulations (Draft)” solicited public feedback. The area’s informatization “promotion” rules attracted national attention to worries over information obstruction.

The draft reads as follows: “Any unit or individual must not publish, distribute, delete, or edit another’s related information without permission.” This article has been read as prohibiting “human flesh search engines” (人肉搜索) (i.e., using modern information technology to do interactive searches for information, typically using the Internet to look up people’s [personal information]).

On June 8, the State Council news office published a white paper on “The State of China’s Internet,” which indicated that Chinese citizens would receive protections under the law for online free speech, and that the Chinese government seriously regarded the Internet’s purpose for monitoring.

The white paper also indicated that the Chinese government would actively create conditions for citizens to monitor the government and that it strongly regarded the Internet’s purpose for monitoring, as people could use the Web to give the government feedback and ask for solutions. In turn, the government could then relay results back to the people.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Journalism and Communication researcher Yin Yungong stated in an Outlook interview: “Human flesh search engines are a double-edged sword. While they may at times infringe on innocent people’s private information — and even go too far — they also manifest the ability of the Internet to monitor. This is plain to see.”

Many experts who were interviewed expressed that human flesh search engines are a broad and hard to define topic. Currently, at the national level, there is no clear law that provides a definition or assessment [of human flesh search engines].

From Science and Technology Daily, a cartoon depicts a legislative ban (立法禁止) cutting short information collection via human flesh search engines:

From Xinhua, “banning human flesh searches”:

From Lanzhou Morning Post, a “human flesh search”:

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