Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fighting Corruption

Website, which posts and translates hot news items from the Chinese internet, translated an article that has become a hot topic on the Chinese web. One great aspect about ChinaSmack is that the website also posts and translates comments from netizens.

From the Chinese paper Global Times, the article titled "People should permit a moderate [or appropriate] amount of corruption in China" sparked outcry among netizens and ChinaSmack has reported the post received over 250k comments within the day. The article's author argues that "fighting corruption is not something that can be completely “fought” nor completely “reformed” because at the same time, it needs “development” to help solve it." The article goes on to argue that corruption in China, while a number one priority, will not go away any time soon. Unlike the western nations (the article notes Hong Kong, the US, and Singapore), where officials and politicians are wealthy, Chinese officials have low salaries which will often lead them to find money on the side and to make connections.

"China can never be a country where other aspects are very backward and only its government officials are clean. Even if it is for a time, it won’t last long." Overall the tone of the article insinuates that corruption in China, at least for the time being, is tolerable and necessary for the nation's growth and advancement. The article was posted following the firing of China's Railway Minister Liu Zhijun, but I have to also wonder if the article's author (or authors) would praise or condone the actions of the Human Flesh Search Engine in weeding out and targeting low-level officials involved in corruption.

Another aspect that dawned on me after reading this article and the posted comments was that the internet draws another parallel to the Maoist period of Chinese history. It appears that the internet has become the location for mass criticism, with aims to better the nation/Party and to call out individuals (in this case, the article's author).

The article says that while other Asian nations are also plagued with corruption, China has the most "pronounced sense of resentment towards corruption," which is clearly evident in the following comments posted to the original article:

蓝色多瑙河123: Corruption should be given the support of the law.

dbl128: From so many netizen comments we can see just how much the people resent corruption.

订婚坐花轿: Global Times: People should permit a moderate amount of corruption in China. Can poor people with low wages moderately go rob a bank?

潜风润梦: Moderate, moderate, what great wording! However, can one talk about moderation in corruption? As long as it is corruption, it is all excessive.

网易北京市网友: The discussion is very intense, but even if you criticize it, so what, nothing will change.

Best白: Bullshit, then the people should be allowed to choose their own government officials.

(source: chinaSMACK)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Burning Photos

Photos published online displaying a group of graduating college students in Dalian, China have been met with anger from college officials and netizens. The photos show the group of students taking a celebratory photo on the campus of their university as smoke from a nearby fire billows behind them. While the university itself was not on fire, the uploader of the photos wrote a caption that the students are "filled with love in seeing the school burn."

The Daily Mail Online article can be found here.

The reason for posting this article is that it provides a lesson, both for those caught up in the HFS and for those elsewhere on the global internet, that one's actions and uploaded content on the internet is subject to both viewing and commentary by all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Buried Alive

Forgot to mention this news stories that hit the internet last week in which a young couple ran over an elderly woman and thinking she was dead buried her alive and ditched the car. The news stories sparked controversy due to the arguments over the declining morality of youth in China.

Reuters article can be found here.

China Rape Arrest

Allegations of rape against a Yongcheng city official have been circulating on Chinese microblogs. The official has been accused of raping ten girls and has been arrested and has confessed his actions. Not much information has been released on this story, especially concerning the role of netizens in venting their anger, however the press releases I've read all seem to insinuate that the arrest was a result of anger on the Chinese internet.

The story at BBC News: here.

Found a more extensive news article pertaining to this story, from Euronews.
“Officials these days are all like this. It’s really terrible,” wrote one Weibo user.
“These dog officials are everywhere. Only execution will sate the public’s anger,” wrote another.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

HFS in Taiwanese Context

Here is a review of another piece of literature I came across.

In the article "Analysis of Human Flesh Search in the Taiwanese Context," authors Tao and Chen seek to explain the significance of the human flesh search in Taiwan. Upon reading this article, I was intrigued because I have not previously done much exploration of HFS outside of mainland China, although I've read of instances occurring in Taiwan, South Korea, and other areas of Asia. To provide a frame of reference, the authors posted a table of primary HFS incidents in Taiwan and the authors who have documented the cases (left).

The authors do a great job at concisely describing both the positive and negative aspects that are depicted in instances of HFS:
The benefits include truth revelation, solicitation of public assistance, promotion of the internet as a leading media, fight against illegal behavior, and determent of unethical yet lawful behavior. Meanwhile, the drawbacks include privacy invasion, violence, exploitation for unintended purposes, low information quality, and restraint in the adoption of internet as a media. (187)

To conclude, the authors make a call for an increase in research on all fronts of HFS incidents, to both quantify cases and research that builds upon HFS theory (189-90).

Participation and collaboration by users play a vital role in the HFS process. On one hand, HFS practices, which are considered a manifestation of citizen empowerment and civil participation, are supported and applauded by other countries.On the other, majority of high-profile HFS cases in China have become aggressive and vicious, arousing research interest on the involved legal, privacy, and social issues. (187)

This is clearly evident in the way that HFS cases are examined and written by both eastern and western media. On the one hand, Chinese media applaud netizens who help track down corruption, while the western media views that and puts a spin that Chinese corruption is out of control and needs to be curbed. Another apparent case which I discussed in my paper is the case of Grace Wang - where the Chinese media named her "the most ugly exchange students" and where the New York Times ran an article citing her bravery and strength of character.

Tao, Yu-Hui and Chian-Hsueng Chao. Analysis of Human Flesh Search in the Taiwanese Context. (IEEE Computer Society, 2011): 187-190.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Crowd Sourcing and Disease Recognition

I came across BioGames, a product of UCLA's Ozcan Research Group, that uses a web game that players can play that helps doctors find malaria-infected red blood cells. The group has shown that "by utilizing the innate visual recognition and learning capabilities of human crowds it is possible to conduct reliable microscopic analysis of biomedical samples and make diagnostics decisions based on crowd-sourcing of microscopic data through intelligently designed and entertaining games that are interfaced with artificial learning and processing back-ends."

Why it works: "So far we have shown that this platform is capable of achieving high accuracies in diagnosing red blood cells that are potentially infected with malaria. We have shown this on a small scale with up to 30 gamers. We need your help to scale this up into a truly massively crowd-sourced platform. When you play a game, your responses are collected and combined with those of other individuals to produce an accurate overall diagnosis. Our goal is to achieve the same accuracy level of a medical professional. Having shown that the crowd's accuracy increases with the size of the crowd, we are interested in finding the most optimal number of individuals needed for accurate diagnosis."

Even more overwhelming is the fact that "using non-professional gamers we report diagnosis of malaria infected red-blood-cells with an accuracy that is within 1.25% of the diagnostic decisions made by a trained professional." Therefore, it is possible to aid third world nations that don't have the resources or trained professionals to examine microscopic data.

A great example of the power of crowd-sourcing and online collaboration put to good use; the same power that also controls the more negative aspects of human flesh search.

HFS Review of Literature

Recent scholarly work out of China and Taiwan has emerged pertaining to human flesh searching and research revolving around it. Thankfully, the subscriptions through my university's library allow me to access and read these articles, thus allowing me to keep up to date with some of the findings and journal articles.

One such article, "Reconceptualizing the Mechanism of Internet Human Flesh Search: A Review of the Literature" by Chian-Hsueng Chao, categorizes the published literature pertaining to HFS into various categories based on the extent and nature of the research conducted. For example, the HFS has been examined using very different lens throughout scholarly work, such as legal issues, privacy concerns, social issues, etc.

What is great is the inter-connectivity of research that is being written concerning privacy and the internet shadowing over HFS and its cases. For example, this article points out that the IT industry has a great deal of work to protect one's identity on networks as well as bringing justice against people who misuse network services to commit acts of privacy invasion, as seen through HFS.

Overall this article did a great job at summing up some of the major research themes pertaining to HFS. While all of the themes are unique, they are all inter-connected and delve into the heart of HFS. However, I was disappointed to find a lack of publication concerned with trying to place a historical context around the HFS. Instead, it appears that most of the literature focuses on the psychological aspects of crowd-sourcing and the legal implications of network servicing and privacy of information sharing. In this article Chao summarizes the bulk of psychological research into HFS into four main categories: deindividuation, bandwagon effect, opinion leaders, and collective behavior.

Regardless, the article did have some strong elements and rather than try to re-summarize some of the strong points of this article, I've pasted excerpts below.

A fantastic excerpt relating to the broad definition of HFS:
HSF and HSF engines are two sides of one coin. The human flesh search engine is an information search tool, such as Mop community and Yahoo! Answer. Whereas the term "human flesh" does not literally mean human flesh, but refers to human resources the search mechanism is based on. The HFS in broad definition refers to the collecting and dissimilating of information. HFS is a collaborative online behavior conducted by Internet users through responding to an open inquiry. Users’ participation and collaboration play a vital role in such a searching process. (651)

Great summary of the timeline of a human flesh search:
The typical process of HFS may be described below:First, someone publishes an open question or part of a question with some information or clue, such as pictures or videos on the online forums, social network, or Blog. The questions may be of interest or controversy depending on the readers. The netizens then respond while browsing the contents and clues attached. Some volunteers may transmit it to other social network sites (e.g. and issue anopen call to dig out the truth, which in turn pulls more respondents. In HFS, many participants joint the discussion of the topic, and quite often during the HFS process, the unwanted publicity of personal information sometimes lead to public harass both online and in real life to the targeted HFS object. (652)

What this passage evoke in myself was the question of what stories get picked up by an HFS? I'm sure there are other content posted to the Chinese internet with hopes of sparking interest and HFS-like mentality that never take off. It would be interesting to research more deeply what elements of the stories that receive the most attention are the factors which attract netizens to respond.

Personal information in the west vs. the east:
In Western countries, personal information and privacy are considered more important than freedom of expression. In Taiwan, the information of the HFS targets are considered publicly available. With the newly amended of Personal Data Protection Act, people who disclose other persons’ personal information in the Internet are illegal. If the netizens releases wrong material during the HFS process, the victim parties can bring civil claims against netizens. (652)

A very important aspect to HFS, as the legal implications surrounding the sharing of private information is still very much a gray-area on the mainland. Can it be argued that the reason that HFS isn't as prevalent in western countries is due to their long-embedded notions of privacy of personal information? Or is it because of the large web population present in Asian nations?

Chao, Chian-Hsueng, Reconceptualizing the Mechanism of Internet Human Flesh Search: A Review of the Literature, (IEEE Computer Society, 2011): 650-655

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I made a Weibo account this morning to "try" to see if I can locate microblog posts on my own without having to go through already-translated western media sources to find out what's going on over on the Chinese internet.

As I began to set up my profile, I noticed the tabbed section on the top "广场" (Public Square), an area to keep up with latest trends and news (like Twitter). I just found this very intriguing because it relates to my research where I related the HFSE and crowd-sourcing in China to public squares and Big Character Posters of the Cultural Revolution - public areas in villages and towns where citizens would read up on the news and postings about recent denunciations.

Anyway, if you have a Weibo account, follow me: 柯文森212.

Chen Guangcheng and Microbloggers

China's micro-blogging community has been up in arms these past few weeks as the Cheng Guangcheng affair has unfolded. First they were concerned for his well-being when he escaped from house arrest, then they called out both in support of Chen and the CCP when he left the US embassy, and now once again the microblogs are alive expressing concerns for his safety. BBC News reports that netizens were active in voicing their opinions and concerns for Chen and the politics surrounding the situation between China and the US.

And Weibo users have been uploading photos of their efforts to push the Chen Guangcheng issue into the limelight in China, most notably by creating and posting "Free CGC" stickers:

Other messages of note from the BBC article:
"Although he is blind, he has only recently experienced true darkness." (from Weibo)

"Now is the time to criticise the American government, because the American leadership care about public opinion. The US participated in the misleading and deceiving of Chen in practice... they knew what fate would await Chen once he left the embassy." (Zhang Dajun 10)

"Why should you go to another country with your own country's problems? This person is creating opportunities for other countries to intervene in China's internal politics." (YouTube comment)

"Don't think that politics has nothing to do with you, unless you intend to live like a pig... don't say that other's suffering has nothing to do with you, because you cannot guarantee that such suffering won't fall on you one day. All for one, one for all." (from Weibo)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chen Guangcheng's Leave

Chinese netizens are once again missing the mark in directing their anger, this time falling into line with the Communist Party's call for the US to apologize for the Chen Guangcheng affair. One Weibo post taken from BBC News' article read, "The US has never paused its attempt to contain China and destabilise China!" But I was under the belief that Chen went to the US embassy on his own volition? Why should the US authorities apologize? For not handing him over?

Once again it's another example of Chinese netizens completely missing the mark. Instead of voicing outrage over Chen's decision to leave because Communist authorities were rounding up his friends and family and threatened him for their safety, or more broadly for the lack of political dissent allowed in China, netizens are directing their anger at the US for "butting" into China's affairs once again.

But level-headed voices prevailed, with Li Kaisheng, a professor at Xiangtan University in Hunan, microblogging, "When a blind man has been subjected to long-term illegal detention and has had to turn to a foreign embassy for protection, our foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin turns a blind eye to the facts and asserts that 'China is a country under the rule of law, and its citizens' legitimate rights and interests are protected by the constitution and its laws'."

Other messages of note from the BBC article:
"They always blame other countries for interfering with China's internal affairs. But why don't they ever consider why the people have lost confidence in China's own judiciary and would rather trust a foreign embassy?!" ("Milktea")

"The US should not interfere with the CCP's tyranny," ("Expecting Dawn")

"This is the CCP's turf. All people living here are slaves to the CCP and must unconditionally accept the CCP's violent rule."

Consent of the Networked Review

After a long wait brought about by coursework texts, I finally finished Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon yesterday (and recommended it to others). MacKinnon opened my eyes to many of the issues surrounding the internet and the numerous organizations trying to keep the net free for everyone. Many issues were raised by MacKinnon questioning the very current debate over identity-verification vs. anonymity, who controls the internet, and how can the internet be strengthened to ensure everyone, regardless of location or what governmental regime one may live under, has a right to a secure and safe internet. After reading this book I have a better grasp on the issues surrounding the internet, many of which complement the Human Flesh Search Engine debates over anonymity and the Chinese government's right (or non-right) to censor political discussion online.

A theme that ran throughout MacKinnon's book was the hypocrisy among western governments and companies between having a free internet while working to build and sell the digital shackles overseas. The book opens citing Apple's 1984 advertisement which claimed that the introduction of the Macintosh computer would not be like Orwell's 1984 - as Apple repeated again when it updated the advert in 2004 featuring it's iPod product (p. 3). However, in China Apple consents to the Chinese government's demand and it's app store censors its apps related to the Dali Lama and Uighur exiles. MacKinnon harks back to Apple's visionary 1984 ad by saying "fifteen years later, Apple seems quite willing to accommodate Big Brother's demands for the sake of market access" (p. 115).

Furthermore, while the US State Department works to fuel research and pumps funding into technologies to enable internet access around government "kill switches" and mobile blackouts during times of political unrest overseas, MacKinnon points out throughout the book that many US-based companies provide the technologies that countries such as Iran and China utilize to fuel their censors and firewalls. MacKinnon also notes protesters in countries who were met with tear gas only to later find "made in the US" labels on the empty canisters (p. 195).

One of the issues discussed deeply throughout the book was one's right to free speech and open access to one's content on the internet (p. 128). Should service providers or governments have the right and ability to remove content? While MacKinnon argued that the right should not be held by the companies or governments that at present hold control over the internet domain, as this greatly impacts social groups and activists working to enact change especially in repressive regimes. I disagree - I believe that certain websites and mobile apps should be taken down when they target specific groups or harm society at large. Recall a recent controversy in which an app was released (perhaps last summer?) titled along the lines of "how to tell if your son is gay." The app was deemed terribly offensive and taken offline. This also brings up the issue of kids who use these apps or view web content and cannot form their own opinions on what they view. Regardless of age warnings or restrictions, children view and are aware of this content.

Furthermore, while I agree that everyone should have the right to free speech on the internet, at present the boundaries of free speech, at least in America, are being pushed on a daily basis. In my opinion, freedom of speech in America has turned our nation into a land of slinging insults and legal bigotry, a political election environment that runs on finger pointing, and produced a media base that values nothing. Therefore I question is the internet should be the open space that we should be aspiring to make it. If that comes about, any Joe Schmo can post hate speech and hurt our social ideals while hiding behind the First Amendment.

Regardless, the internet is becoming globalized and as MacKinnon made evident, how can we make changes to the internet that appease everyone (and all governments/institutions too for that matter) (p. 146). Facebook, she writes, is working to break down barriers among people and Zuckerberg believes that one should know all the little details about the people surrounding them in their life. His aim is to make Facebook profile information and contacts less private. However MacKinnon notes that websites such as Google Plus and Facebook have changed their terms of service only to be met with extreme outrage from people across the globe who are affected by this demolition of privacy. A large rift is building between first world citizens who stalk co-workers and classmates on Facebook, from political activists using Facebook and Twitter to stage protests and call for change who need anonymity to remain out of the clutches of the regimes they aim to change. Therefore, Facebook's beliefs fuel how it can be used by others, but due to its choke-hold as being the foremost social media website, it is a much needed tool across the globe (p. 152).

And to tie this book back to the contents of this blog, MacKinnon alludes back to the Anti-CNN blog of 2008 in China and how Chinese netizens can actually work in favor of the Communist Party. As seen with the Human Flesh Search Engine, Chinese patriotism and nationalism can fuel participation on the internet and it becomes evident that their work is actually strengthening the Communist Party's rule. As pointed out in my research, with many injustices facing the Chinese people such as restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and rampant attacks on the environment by government-run corporations, netizens seek instead to oust low-level officials and seemingly anonymous individuals who they feel "embarrass" China. Why not bring the attack to Big Brother?

All in all, MacKinnon's book was what I'd hoped it to be: informative in documenting the various efforts to keep the internet open and the implications of having government control content online in this environment of internet empowerment and the translation of internet activism to the streets.