Something for the Style Police here at Archiseek?
June 4, 2006 at 1:45 pm #708663garethaceParticipant
This story seems to have created quite a storm on discussion forums around the globe. It may even have important implications for online forums discussing the environment, like this one.
Brian O’ Hanlon.
June 3, 2006
Online Throngs Impose a Stern Morality in China
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
SHANGHAI, June 2 — It began with an impassioned, 5,000-word letter on one of the country’s most popular Internet bulletin boards from a husband denouncing a college student he suspected of having an affair with his wife. Immediately, hundreds joined in the attack.
“Let’s use our keyboard and mouse in our hands as weapons,” one person wrote, “to chop off the heads of these adulterers, to pay for the sacrifice of the husband.”
Within days, the hundreds had grown to thousands, and then tens of thousands, with total strangers forming teams that hunted down the student, hounded him out of his university and caused his family to barricade themselves inside their home.
It was just the latest example of a growing phenomenon the Chinese call Internet hunting, in which morality lessons are administered by online throngs and where anonymous Web users come together to investigate others and meter out punishment for offenses real and imagined.
In recent instances, people have scrutinized husbands suspected of cheating on their wives, fraud on Internet auction sites, the secret lives of celebrities and unsolved crimes. One case that drew a huge following involved the poisoning of a Tsinghua University student, an event that dates to 1994 but was revived by curious strangers after word spread that the only suspect in the case had been questioned and released.
Even a recent scandal involving a top Chinese computer scientist dismissed for copying the design of an American processor came to light in part because of Internet hunting, with scores of online commentators raising questions about the project and putting pressure on the scientist’s sponsors to look into the allegations.
While Internet wars can crop up anywhere, these cases have set off alarms in China, where this sort of crowd behavior has led to violence in the past. Many draw disturbing parallels to the Cultural Revolution, whose 40th anniversary is this year, when mobs of students taunted and beat their professors. Mass denunciations and show trials became the order of the day for a decade.
In recent years, the government has gradually tightened controls on the Internet, censoring popular search engines, like Google and Technorati; employing thousands of Web police officers; and requiring that customers at Internet cafes provide identification.
There has been recurrent talk by the government of registering all Internet users, and many worry that a wave of online threats and vigilantism could serve as a pretext to impose new limits on users.
The affair of the cuckolded husband first came to public attention in mid-April, after the man, who goes by the Web name Freezing Blade, discovered online correspondence between his wife, Quiet Moon, and a college student, Bronze Mustache. After an initial conversation, in which he forgave his wife, the man discovered messages on his wife’s computer that confirmed to him that the liaison was continuing. He then posted the letter denouncing Bronze Mustache, and identifying him by his real name.
The case exploded on April 20, when a bulletin board manifesto against Bronze Mustache was published by someone using the name Spring Azalea.
“We call on every company, every establishment, every office, school, hospital, shopping mall and public street to reject him,” it said. “Don’t accept him, don’t admit him, don’t identify with him until he makes a satisfying and convincing repentance.”
Impassioned people teamed up to uncover the student’s address and telephone number, both of which were then posted online. Soon, people eager to denounce him showed up at his university and at his parents’ house, forcing him to drop out of school and barricade himself with his family in their home.
Others denounced the university for not expelling him, with one poster saying it should be “bombed by Iranian missiles.” Many others said the student should be beaten or beheaded, or that he and the married woman should be put in a “pig cage” and drowned.
“Right from the beginning, every day there have been people calling and coming to our house, and we have all been very upset,” said the student’s father, who was interviewed by telephone but insisted that he not be identified by name, to avoid further harassment. “This is an awful thing, and the Internet companies should stop these attacks, but we haven’t spoken with them. I wouldn’t know whom to speak to.”
In hopes of quieting the criticism, Bronze Mustache issued a six-minute online video denying any affair with Quiet Moon, whom he is said to have met at a gathering of enthusiasts of the online game World of Warcraft. At the same time, Freezing Blade has twice asked people to call off the attacks, even joining in the denials of an affair — all to no avail.
At its height, the Bronze Mustache case accounted for huge traffic increases on China’s Internet bulletin boards, including a nearly 10 percent increase in daily traffic on Tianya, the bulletin board with the most users.
In many countries, electronic bulletin boards hark back to the earliest days of the Internet, before Web browsers were common, and when text messages were posted in static fashion in stark black and white. In today’s China, however, bulletin boards, or BBS’s, have been colorfully updated and remain at the heart of the country’s Internet culture.
“Our Web site is a platform, not a court,” said Zeng Liu, a Webmaster for Tianya, which reports 40 million page visits daily and claims to be the world’s largest BBS. “We cannot judge who is a good or bad person by some moral standard, but we have our own bottom line. If it’s a personal attack on someone, we delete it, but it is very difficult, given that we have 10 million users.”
Although concerned about online threats, advocates of free speech say that is no reason for the Chinese authorities to place further limits on the Internet.
“The Internet should be free, and I have always opposed the idea of registering users, because this is perhaps the only channel we have for free discussion,” said Zhu Dake, a sociologist and cultural critic at Tongji University, in Shanghai. “On the other hand, the Internet is being distorted. This creates a very difficult dilemma for us.”
Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at China Youth University of Political Science, in Beijing, said: “As freedom of expression is not well protected here, we have to choose the lighter of two evils. The minority who are hurting other people in such cases should be prevented, but this behavior should not disturb the majority’s freedom of expression.”
But there are obvious drawbacks to unfettered discussion, as the Bronze Mustache case illustrates. “What we Internet users are doing is fulfilling our social obligations,” said one man who posted a lengthy attack on the college student and his alleged affair. “We cannot let our society fall into such a low state.”
Asked how he would react if people began publishing online allegations about his private life, he answered, “I believe strongly in the traditional saying that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you don’t fear the knock on your door at midnight.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
June 4, 2006 at 2:00 pm #777944garethaceParticipant
Another technology Archiseek might merge with, in the future perhaps?
Video surveillance feeds going online to prevent style crimes?
Well, to be honest considering how much building has happened so quickly here in Ireland, the borders are quite long to patrol.
Maybe Smart Mobs, to borrow a phrase from the writer Howard Rheingold, do present a viable alternative.
Shoreditch broadband project in the UK, was an ambitious public funded project to deliver the internet to a large community.
Breaching the digital divide:
One of the applications they have found it seems, is online surveillance.
This enticing vision of the electronic neighbourhood watch is offered by the Shoreditch Trust as a part of its Shoreditch Digital Bridge (SDB) project, which aims to build a broadband digital network covering 20,000 residents on housing estates in the Shoreditch area.
Shoreditch TV web site:
The Houston Chronicle has more on patrolling borders here:
The Internet as a medium naturally lends itself to this kind of online collaboration.
In a way, that older forms of media, such as TV do not.
Indeed, the radio, in the form of the ‘Joe Duffy’ show offers better chances for collaboration and discussion than TV does.
I have written one or two articles for paper magazines, but even that is problematic.
There is always an advertiser or someone, who wants your space – so you get shoved to one side.
Channel 4 and all the other big interests, in the older forms of media, are busy trying to respond to the threat posed by the new media of the Internet.
RTE even jumped on the bandwagon, of trying to retro-fit the ancient technology of television, with a collaborative angle, or interactive capability.
With Celebrity Farm, people could vote having watched the ‘live video surveillance footage’, and decide who stays in the house or not.
But, as was revealed with Celebrity Farm, the few hours of ‘live’ footage the public were treated to, were heavily staged affairs – not the real thing.
What the Chinesse mob hunting story shows, is the size of the publics appetite for something like the real chase, the ‘real’ big brother so to speak.
It becomes a re-interpretation of the older formats, like the TV game show, spin the wheel etc, etc.
An inversion of the idea, of everyday people, chosen by lottery ticket, to ‘spin the wheel’.
It seems that the public want more nowadays, than the older TV media can provide.
They wish to partake in some kind of a group hunting adventure.
Which goes back to a very ancient instinct, that of survival perhaps.
Brian O’ Hanlon.
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