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Commit adultery in China, Web vigilantes will hunt you

Human flesh search engines, the term used in China to describe cybermobs that unite to exact their own brand of Web justice, are growing in popularity.

A man cheats on his wife and after learning of the affair the woman leaps from her 24th-floor balcony. Before committing suicide, the wife blames her husband and his mistress for her death in a blog post.

The woman was a 31-year-old Beijing resident who has since become the face of what the Chinese call "human flesh search engines." The term is used to describe cybermobs banding together online to hunt down people who have committed perceived wrongdoings.

There's a fascinating story about these Web vigilantes from Beijing-based freelance journalist Chris O'Brien at He writes that after becoming the target of a human flesh search engine, Wang Fei, the suicide victim's husband, was disgraced, lost his job, and was physically threatened.

No trial, no jury.

"Within days, photographs of Wang appeared on numerous Internet forums alongside his phone numbers, address, and national ID number," O'Brien wrote. "Slogans were painted on his front door. One read: 'A blood debt must be repaid with blood.'"

Another story from New America Media from April said that the targets of human flesh search engines include "a man who had an illicit sexual relationship, a woman who wore high-heel sandals and stepped on a kitten's head, and a 'foreigner' who slept with many Chinese women."

The story explains China's new Web vigilantism this way: "An information expert thinks large-scale human flesh search engines are unique to China, a claim that appears to be true. This is understandable as a consequence of China's ubiquitous manpower and ingrained tradition of 'people's war' tracing back to Mao. On the other hand, because China's laws are imperfect, the Internet is seen as a way to seek justice."