Panel III: Contextualizing the Present

Start Date

31-3-2012 11:15 AM

End Date

31-3-2012 1:00 PM

Description

The Human Flesh Search Engine is a recent, unique phenomenon on the Chinese internet. Comprising of thousands of forum, micro-blog, and entertainment websites and mobilizing the overwhelming number of Chinese internet users, or netizens, the search engine is able to quickly find obscure information and identify seemingly anonymous internet personalities. These websites allow netizens to have their voices heard in an otherwise restrictive government, however these websites also become a hotbed for dissent, with web users highlighting stories and figures which they deem harmful to society. Through clever investigative work, netizens hunt down an individual's identity with the goal of bringing about "justice" - often getting the individual fired or publicly shamed. The term “Human Flesh Search Engine” became viral in 2006 after a video of an anonymous woman crushing a kitten with her shoe was posted to a Chinese website. Chinese netizens quickly discerned the woman’s identity and used this information to harass the woman, prompting government involvement. This research examines cases of the search engine, focusing specifically on the themes of animal abuse, government corruption, and Chinese traitors. Within these contexts the pervasive issue of anonymity is discussed: those exposed through the search engine lose all anonymity, with personal information displayed to people all over the world, while those who seek and reveal this information have the luxury to hide behind online aliases. Connections are made to the Cultural Revolution era of Chinese history, and in particular to the movement of bigcharacter posters, which like the search engine mobilized large groups of people from all walks of society. Chinese netizens have even been referred to as modern-day Red Guards for their cyber-vigilantism. As the internet in China continues to expand and become accessible to a greater extent of the population, it is argued that the power of the Human Flesh Search Engine will need to be reined in.

Comments

Panel III of the 2012 Graduate History Conference features presentations and papers under the topic of "Contextualizing the Present."

Vincent Capone's presentation is the third presentation in this panel.

Presentation based on Capone's undergraduate thesis from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

For more information about this project, visit: http://humanfleshsearchengine.blogspot.com/

Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

 
Mar 31st, 11:15 AM Mar 31st, 1:00 PM

The Human Flesh Search Engine: Democracy, Censorship, and Political Participation in Twenty-First Century China

The Human Flesh Search Engine is a recent, unique phenomenon on the Chinese internet. Comprising of thousands of forum, micro-blog, and entertainment websites and mobilizing the overwhelming number of Chinese internet users, or netizens, the search engine is able to quickly find obscure information and identify seemingly anonymous internet personalities. These websites allow netizens to have their voices heard in an otherwise restrictive government, however these websites also become a hotbed for dissent, with web users highlighting stories and figures which they deem harmful to society. Through clever investigative work, netizens hunt down an individual's identity with the goal of bringing about "justice" - often getting the individual fired or publicly shamed. The term “Human Flesh Search Engine” became viral in 2006 after a video of an anonymous woman crushing a kitten with her shoe was posted to a Chinese website. Chinese netizens quickly discerned the woman’s identity and used this information to harass the woman, prompting government involvement. This research examines cases of the search engine, focusing specifically on the themes of animal abuse, government corruption, and Chinese traitors. Within these contexts the pervasive issue of anonymity is discussed: those exposed through the search engine lose all anonymity, with personal information displayed to people all over the world, while those who seek and reveal this information have the luxury to hide behind online aliases. Connections are made to the Cultural Revolution era of Chinese history, and in particular to the movement of bigcharacter posters, which like the search engine mobilized large groups of people from all walks of society. Chinese netizens have even been referred to as modern-day Red Guards for their cyber-vigilantism. As the internet in China continues to expand and become accessible to a greater extent of the population, it is argued that the power of the Human Flesh Search Engine will need to be reined in.

 

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