The “Human Flesh Search Engine” is a concept that originated in mainland China, but according to the People’s Daily, Taiwan has just made it officially legal in cases of public interest. But before you start stalking up a storm, be warned: in cases that are found to exceed what is in the public interest, you will be vulnerable to lawsuits.
“Human Flesh Search Engine,” for those who aren’t aware, is the term Chinese internet users have applied to the way that net users band together to track down people’s true identities. This is often used to expose corrupt officials or other people whose behavior offends the internet-using public but whose identities aren’t immediately clear. For example, in the recent “Watch Brother” case, net users uncovered the name and background of a government official after a photo of him wearing an expensive watch and smirking at the scene of a bloody highway accident spread over Chinese message boards and weibo.
In the Chinese media, there has been much discussion over whether this is a violation of privacy or a danger to social stability, so it will be interesting to see if Taiwan’s approach paves the way for any official legislation about the human flesh search engine on the mainland. In a country where the freedom of the press is often severely curtailed, the human flesh search engine can serve an important social service, but of course, it can also turn into an online witch hunt.
I think Taiwan has taken a very reasonable approach here in allowing the practice in general while giving the courts the right to set things straight when the human flesh searching goes overboard and veers into the realm of stalking or libel. I wouldn’t expect China to propose similar legislation anytime soon, but with a new crop of leaders about to enter the picture, I suppose there’s really no way of knowing what could happen.
[Dongfang Morning via Sina Tech]