A Chinese Chat Room Adventure

News media know that they have to keep the excitement level up in order to keep their audience.  But news media know that they depend heavily on external development and events (such as the The Fuzhou Bus Explosion), which are beyond their control.  During times when nothing new and exciting is happening, they have to re-cycle the old and reliable memes.  One such that you can always count on are bad behavior in Internet chat rooms.

The following is such a typical story and was found at Yangcheng Evening News (via Wenxue City):


(abbreviated translation)  The reporter went into E-Conversation chat rooms and it was like a bazaar with more than 11,000 chat rooms of various capacities (300, 100, 60, 30 or 10), many of which are open 24-hours per day and run by individual entreprenuers.  The E-Conversation chat roomd have more 70,000 online at any time.

Some of the chat rooms have vulgar names such as "The Seductiveness of Big Tit Girls," "Village for Secret Liaisons" and so on. 

The reporter made an inquiry with a salesperson and he answered frankly, "If you doubt that the performance inside any chat room will satisfy you, you can send in 50 yuan first and try it out.  Then you will know whether it is worth the money."  The reporter asked about an annual fee, but the salesman offered helpfully: "You don't want a long-term membership, because you will lose everything if something happens."  The reporter found out that the monthly fees ranged from 100 yuan to 500 yuan.

The reporter chatted with a female and she told him that she has seen "couple shows" in which the couple (which can be husband-and-wife, or lovers, or a case of prostitution) made love online.  The man and the woman would talk to each other across the chat room and masturbate.  Other net friends told the reporter that the 10-person chat rooms are even worse at around 5am or 6am and the reporter found that to be true -- there were people exhibiting themselves, people masturbating, same sex people, and so on ...

So that was another day's work that could have been written some time ago and brought out when the real news is slow.  Except this particular story had a twist, and you would have to look closely at the first  photo on the top left.  Ordinarily, those present in a chat room use an avatar to represent themselves.  This might be a cartoon character, or a disguised person, but that photo contains the face of a woman dressed in red.  That is the subject of this follow-up story.

That first YCWB story was carried by Sohu.com, Sina.com, NetEase. Tom, 21CN, Yahoo! and other websites and read by who knows how many other forums and BBS's.  This drew the following letter (via Yahoo! News):

I am an E-Conversation user.  In May 2004, I applied to get a 100-person capacity chat room whose theme is singing and speaking.  This is a site for middle-age people to relax and entertain themselves, and it is a refined, classy, happy and harmonious environment maintained by me and other volunteers.

On the afternoon of August 4, a net friend told me to go to a certain website and read an article.  This was a report by a journalist about E-Conversation chat rooms and all the ugly going-ons therein.  While the conditions at some of the chatrooms appalled me, I was truly shocked when I saw the screenshot that the reporter took for room 117694 at 2:40 am on July 31.  That girl with the long hair and red clothes was me!  Someone had used a copy of my image to use as an avatar in order to enter this erotic chat room.

To use my photograph as their avatar in order to engage in such activities seriously damaged my reputation and violated my personal rights.  My friends told me that it is very easy to capture someone's image during a chat session.  After many efforts, I was able to locate the perpetrator on the afternoon of August 6.  He admitted that he captured my photo by stealth while I was hosting a chat session.  But by this time, that photo had appeared on many other web pages and caused me irreparable damage.

I am just a girl who was a good student and a good team player in the drama group.  I regarded my reputation as more important than my life.  How can bear this major blow!  For the past few days, I can't sleep or eat.  I tried to locate those websites and asked them to delete the photos, but there are still some that I cannot reach.

My friends comfort me that they understand me and they believe me, and so I should not hurt myself.  They said that most erotic chat room participants only show parts of their bodies and never their faces, so everyone must understand that it could not be that real person.  I am deeply grateful for their words of consolation, but how can I disregard what happened?  These days, during the day, I am tense and nervous, and I don't dare get on E-Conversation or QQ because I have no more strength to explain left to people.  At night, I wake up crying and count the minutes away before sunrise.  I am full of anger and misgivings, but whom can I complain to?  So I use this letter to call to society to give us a nice and clean Internet environment and give me justice!  At the same time, I truly hope that other people who come to chat rooms will use my case as a lesson to look after themselves."

The narrow technical issue here is the use of the image to identify the individual.  The only protection is to never show your face on the Internet anywhere anytime to anyone.  Actually, it is worse -- the only protection is to never ever get any photograph taken!