Human flesh search engine (Chinese: ?; pinyin: Rénròu S?usu?) is a Chinese term for the phenomenon of distributed researching using Internet media such as blogs and forums. It is similar to the concept of "doxing", a practice often associated with the social activist group Anonymous. Both human flesh search engine and doxing have generally been stigmatized as being for the purpose of identifying and exposing individuals to public humiliation, sometimes out of vigilantism, nationalist or patriotic sentiments, or to break the Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China. More recent analyses, however, have shown that it is also used for a number of other reasons, including exposing government corruption, identifying hit and run drivers, and exposing scientific fraud, as well as for more "entertainment"-related items such as identifying people seen in pictures. A categorization of hundreds of Human flesh search (HFS) episodes can be found in the 2010 IEEE Computer paper A Study of the Human Flesh Search Engine: Crowd-Powered Expansion of Online Knowledge.
The system is based on massive human collaboration. The name refers both to the use of knowledge contributed by human beings through social networking, and to the fact that the searches are usually dedicated to finding the identity of a human being who has committed some sort of offense or social breach online. People conducting such research are commonly referred to collectively as "Human Flesh Search Engines".
Because of the convenient and efficient nature of information sharing in cyberspace, the Human Flesh Search is often used to acquire information usually difficult or impossible to find by other conventional means (such as a library or web search engines). Such information, once available, can be rapidly distributed to hundreds of websites, making it an extremely powerful mass medium. The purposes of human flesh search vary from providing technical/professional Q&A support, to revealing private/classified information about specific individuals or organizations (therefore breaching the internet confidentiality and anonymity). Because personal knowledge or unofficial (sometimes illegal) access are frequently depended upon to acquire this information, the reliability and accuracy of such searches often vary.
The term originated on the Mop forums in 2001, coined by Mop to describe "a search that was human-powered rather than computer-driven". The original human flesh search engine was a subforum on Mop similar to a question-and-answer (Q&A) site, focusing on entertainment-related questions. Gradually, the definition of the term evolved from not just a search by humans, but also a search of humans.
An early human flesh search dated back to March 2006, when netizens on Tianya Club collaborated to identify an Internet celebrity named "Poison" (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: dúyào). The man was found out to be a high-level government official.
However, Fei-Yue Wang et al. state that the earliest HFS search was in 2001, "when a user posted a photo of a young woman on a Chinese online forum..., and claimed she was his girlfriend." She was eventually identified as a minor celebrity and the initial claim was discredited.
The human flesh search engine has also been deployed for amusement. Johan Lagerkvist, author of After the Internet, Before Democracy: Competing Norms in Chinese Media and Society, said that the Little Fatty meme, in which pictures of a teenager were photoshopped on film posters without the boy's permission, demonstrated that the human flesh search engine "can also be directed against society's subaltern and the powerless" and that "[t]his raises important issues of the legitimate right to privacy, defamation, and slander."
The Baojia system of community rule-of-law in ancient China bears strong similarities with human flesh search. Both are based on some form of vigilantism.
Zhang Ya's Earthquake Video: In May 2008, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 swept through Sichuan, China, killing approximately 87,587 people. In response to the quake, a video insulting the victims was published on YouTube by an anonymous female user. After nationwide outrage, The Human Flesh Search Engine identified the girl as Zhang Ya, doxing her and uploading her personal information online.
Li Gang incident: On October 16, 2010, a drunk-driving student hit a pair of university students while driving inside Hebei University, with one fatality, and was reported to have shouted "Sue me if you dare, my dad is Li Gang!" when apprehended. Following the spread of the news on Chinese internet forums, the driver's identity was revealed as Li Qiming, the son of the deputy director of the local public security bureau.
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