June 3, 2006


Online Throngs Impose a Stern Morality in China (HOWARD W. FRENCH, 6/03/06, NY Times)

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 mete out punishment for offenses real and imagined. [...]

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.

How hard would it be for a competent intelligence service to start pointing these mobs at corrupt PRC officials?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 3, 2006 9:28 AM

We won't know until someone can prove the existence of a competent intelligence service.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 3, 2006 10:09 AM

AOG, I thought you couldn't prove a negative.

Posted by: erp at June 3, 2006 11:15 AM

Let's see whether we approve of what happened in this case.

A husband suspected some college student of adultery, and mobs hounded the victim out of college and terrorized his family.

Is not digitally enhanced mob rule mob rule still?

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 3, 2006 12:18 PM

Thou shalt not covet....

I'm down with it.

Posted by: oj at June 3, 2006 12:24 PM

Oh you are, are you? OK, everybody, I suspect Orrin stole my wallet. Let's roll!

After all, thou shalt not steal...

Posted by: Peter B at June 3, 2006 12:58 PM

And no one rolled.... I think it works better if you are a trusted member of the community. Build up that social net and try again, Peter!

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 3, 2006 4:00 PM

Peter, nobody would believe that Orrin stole your wallet, now disabling all the neighborhood cars would be completely believable and might get the mob roiled up.

Posted by: erp at June 3, 2006 4:34 PM