China's Internet Hunters Battle Morality One Mob At A Time

from the she's-a-witch-she's-a-witch dept

The internet is many things; one it does really well is be an angry mob. Fuelled by a high degree of anonymity and a general lack of accountability, people have no trouble piling on those who offend the general consensus, dare question certain online personalities or commit other transgressions. Apparently this sort of mob justice is hugely popular in China, where people engage in "Internet hunting" to dole out lessons in morality and even mete out punishments. For instance, one man, known as "Freezing Blade" thought his wife ("Quiet Moon") was having an affair with a student ("Bronze Mustache"). He posted a letter online denouncing the student, which led to tens of thousands of people hunting down his real name and address, with some even harrassing him at his parents' house and the university he attended before dropping out in the face of the attacks. Internet hunters also helped expose a Chinese researcher who faked his work, and while they were "right" in that case, the rise of this online vigilantism that carries over into the real world is a little worrisome. People often do things online they'd never contemplate doing in real life, but the safety of the mob is emboldening people to let their aggressive behavior cross over into the physical world. But what happens when they get their facts wrong, as appears to have happened in the case of Bronze Mustache. It's easy to get the mob fired up and going, but it's much harder to stop it.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    hobot, May 31st, 2006 @ 10:57am

    One thing it does not do,

    Is spell check for you, unless you have spellbound of course.

    (one it does really well is be an agry mob)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Carlo, May 31st, 2006 @ 11:02am

    Re: One thing it does not do,


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Cßau, May 31st, 2006 @ 11:17am

    Great Article minus spellcheck

    Great article as always. I appreciate all that you all do on Tech Dirt. However, Fuelled is Fueled. Thanks again.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    I, for one, May 31st, 2006 @ 11:52am

    I know where you live spelling Nazi

    You dare question Carlos spelling? That IP address is all he needs to hunt you down like a dog. Be very afraid. :)

    Seriously, it's all fun and games until someone forgets that the internet is culturally and psychologically enabling because relative anonymity allows a degree of ribbing and expression that is bounded. Everything you read on the net, especially the mainstream news outlets, should be taken with a very large dollop of salt.
    Those that take it into the real world are playing with fire. That guy you assume is some 7 stone dweeb might turn out to be the ex special forces undercover cop of your nightmares when you turn up at his door.

    There are probably three legitimate exceptions. One is where you genuinely have reason to believe a crime has, or is about to be comitted, in which case you should make it known to the relevant authority. Another is where you are engaged in a real life business relationship with an online entity which goes bad, in which case you need real names and addresses to serve court orders. The last is to organise legitimate peaceful protest. It's ironic though that the same "emboldened" people who will take up pitch forks to harass an individual who's merely accused of some social misdemeanour turn into lethargic cowards in a state of absolute denial when faced with hard evidence of their govenments betrayal. With regards to quality of sources, the internet is no more reliable, and no less a conduit for hearsay, gossip and rumour than any other medium before it or yet to come.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Air, May 31st, 2006 @ 11:58am

    Give it a rest

    So the guy made a few typos in the article, so what? I am sure he is more than grateful for the people who point out every grammatical mistake he makes.

    Keep up the good work or get a life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Carlo, May 31st, 2006 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Great Article minus spellcheck

    Thanks for the complements, however, "fuelled" is an acceptable spelling.

    Also, while we're at it, it's "Techdirt", but that's just splitting hairs :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Jeff, May 31st, 2006 @ 1:01pm

    An actual comment...not just spell checking.

    People need to realize that "doing things online" that they wouldn't do in "real life" is dead. The online world and the real world are merging, what people "do" online represents them in whatever world they live in. Nearly 50 million American's "create" web content, so whether you are blogging, writing articles, commenting, or creating your own complete is now not just your "online" identity, it is an extension of your "real" self.

    I definitely do not condone the behavior in the post/article, but people just need to take the things they do online more seriously these days and protect themselves a bit more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 31st, 2006 @ 2:14pm

    just wait until the personal details of some productive spammers hits the web... you havent seen mob vigilante justice yet!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Colin, May 31st, 2006 @ 4:06pm

    Spammers vigilante justice?

    The Spam Lord Alan Ralsky had his information posted online and his home address flooded with junk mail. He didn't see the irony, and is attempting a lawsuit.

    Internet vigilante stories remind me of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938 and the Cry Wolf fable. 1 person distributes false information (as a joke) and it causes widespread panic. How often will people believe that there is a wolf before they realize they're being manipulated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Clair Ching, Jun 2nd, 2006 @ 12:48am

    I agree with Jeff about taking responsibility for what we do online. There are a lot of things that people could associate with our online personas. Even they would be different from each other, they are still extensions of our personalities. However, I think that hunting down people would be too much already. The dilemma was among the concerned parties and I don't think that they had to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Angel, Jun 2nd, 2006 @ 8:10am

    Speaking of taking responsibility for what we do online. Try this article, a humorous story based on this one:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Diver-Down, Jun 30th, 2006 @ 3:58pm

    Vigilantes On-line

    Thanks for the informative post. I'm just getting into this stuff (currently testing the waters at MySpace and there seems to be some scary stuff in the pool, gene-pool, that is, as in the real world0.

    Ooops! Now I hope I'M not gonna get hunted dow... ARRrrrgh!!!!

    Seriously, I was wondering about it given some of the things I see posted, photo'd and etc.

    Remember our English Prof's and ethics instructors saying something about 'publish or say nothing that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the Washington Post (or local newspaper?!).

    Still a good rule of thumb but, then again, there's also the saying that 'we're only as sick as our secrets.'

    Here's to your health! :-) Diver D.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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