【 NY Times 】   Post Date: 5/22/2019
Who’s Afraid of China’s Internet Vigilantes?
Author: Audrey Jiajia Li
It isn’t just government censorship that is restricting free expression in China. It’s also the “human flesh searches.”
When social media emerged in my country almost 10 years ago, my peers and I were excited. Here was a space where Chinese people like us could share everything, we thought, from bits of daily life to our unvarnished views on public affairs. We were naïvely optimistic back then about the prospect, as a famous phrase at the time put it, of “onlookers changing China.”
Things did not turn out that way. Nearly a decade later, the growing silence on social media when it comes to sensitive public issues is deafening. Most of us now refrain from posting things that are potentially controversial. That’s in part because of tightened censorship. But it’s also because of a phenomenon called “renrou sousuo,” or “human flesh search” — the deliberate marshaling of the forces of the internet against those deemed harmful to the public good. This, in its own way, has been just as responsible for the chilling effect.
The term sounds creepy — and it is. “Human flesh searches” are all about punishing people whom the cyberspace masses decide are deserving of public attention and scorn. It’s effectively an effort to use crowdsourcing to reveal and broadcast the real-life identities of those who had been essentially anonymous online — call it doxxing with Chinese characteristics.
Key Words: Social Media
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