Human flesh search engines -- another dark side of the internet

The Obama campaign's use of the internet to mobilize positive, political participant is one of the brighter chapters in the Net's presence as a contribution to public life. Now from China comes some awful news about ways in which "human flesh search engines" are used by aggressive moralists to hound people suspected of wrongdoing.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Some call it a weapon in the hands of a righteous army, forged so that wrongdoers might be smitten. Others say it simply allows a mob of vigilantes to publicly vilify and humiliate anyone they choose to pick on through grotesque invasions of privacy.

Either way, the peculiarly Chinese Internet phenomenon known as the "human flesh search engine," a citizen-driven, blog-based hunt for alleged undesirables, claimed a fresh victim this month when a mid-ranking government official lost his job.

Accused of accosting a young girl, Lin Jiaxiang found his name, address, phone number, and workplace plastered all over Chinese cyberspace for 250 million Internet users to see, and his alleged crime the subject of hundreds of insulting blog postings.

Mr. Lin might be thought to have gotten his just deserts, especially since the police refused to prosecute him because he'd been drunk. Grace Wang, however, a Chinese student at Duke University, was outraged when netizens back home, offended by her efforts to mediate a campus dispute between pro-Tibetan and Chinese students last March, tracked down her parents' address and emptied a bucket of feces by their front door. . . . .

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It's easy to imagine mud slinging campaigns of this sort in the U.S. as well.