The Jinhua Murders

The following post by the user 半山腰的火焰 (The Flames Halfway Up The Mountain) had appeared in a number of Chinese BBS forums (TT, MOP, Tianya, etc) in late April.  The original Chinese text is included here because it is likely that the source copy will be deleted soon.

金华惊现多起连环杀人案!!!

是浙江人看过新闻的都知道,前几个礼拜,已有报道,以有4人被杀害,受害者均是女性。目今确切数字以有7人死亡,乃是一起47人事件,也有说法是11人。
    
金华市公安局局长楼志浪称,如在本月底破不了案,他将辞去局长一职。现金华公安局出资
5万悬赏此人。现在金华街道上到处是城防队员,对过往可疑人群进行搜查,现在对网吧及旅馆查得最为严厉!

浙闽赣连环杀人案,至今72重伤,涉案地点分布在江西、浙江、福建。此人疑为退伍军人或警察出身。身高1.68左右。有交通工具(汽车或摩托车)、自江西金华福建金华。现怀疑还在浙江境内。大家如发现类是人员,请马上联系110。切勿盲目动手!

(in transation)

Serial multiple homicides in Jinhua City! ! !

Any Zhejiang person keeping an eye on the news would know that several weeks ago, there was a report that four people were murdered, all of whom were female.  Right now, the accurate number is seven persons dead in four murder cases.  Another version has 11 dead.

Jinhua city public security bureau director Comrade Liu Ziliang said that if the case is not solved by the end of the month, he will resign.  The Jinhua public security bureau is offering a reward of 50,000 RMB to apprehend the culprit.  Right now, the streets of Jinhua are full of municipal patrol members who are searching suspicious individuals, especially in Internet bars and hotels!

The serial murders in Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi provinces have resulted in seven dead and two seriously injured across the three provinces.  The suspect is either a retired military or police man.  He is 1.68 meters tall.  He has his own transportation (either a car or a motorcycle) and has traveled Jiangxi->Jinhua->Fujian->Jinhua.  It is suspected that he is still in Zhejiang.  If you find this suspect, please contact 110 immediately.  Do not blindly try to do anything yourself!

This was an Internet-only story that the local newspapers did not carry.  There was not a pipsqueak until this Southern Metropolis Daily report today:

Recently, the Zhejiang province Jinhua city public security bureau held a press conference to clear up the rumor of the "Multiple serial homicdes in Jinhua City" forum post . They announced that the security situation in Jinhua city is steady and they urged the citizens not to believe in rumors.

Earlier, at the Tianya and MOP forums, there was a post titled "Shocking multiple serial homicides in Jinhua."  Although the rumor monger named Hu has been detained, there are still "street rumors" around.  Many single women don't even dare open their windows at night.  The Jinhua city public security bureau therefore called a press conference to say that the security situation in Jinhua city is steady and that citizens should not believe in those rumors.

According to information, on the evening of April 25 and the morning of April 26, 20-year-old Hu used the ID of "The flames halfway up the mountain" to distribute the post titled "Shocking multiple serial homicides in Jinhua" at many forums.  He exaggerated the two murder cases with four dead to eight people dead, and he also made up the rumor that "the criminal has moved on to Yongkong and killed another girl in Wujin city."

More at Eastday:

... in the post, Hu offered these reminders: "This report is not exaggerating the danger or manufacting terror" and "women need to have someone with them!" ...

After his arrest, Hu said that he knew not that many people died.  But in order to gain attraction, he exaggerated the facts.  The local police have detained Hu for "making up facts to disturb public order."

The post was propagated through the local Jinhua forums and caused tensions among the local citizens.  This reporter went to have dinner at a local friend's home and found that the windows was sealed: "At our office, there are various versions about this matter, about perverted killers committing serial murders and so on.

Post facto, it is clear what happened.  But more interesting is what happened before the public security bureau's press conference.

First of all, the forum webmasters were unable to screen out the item.  This was one of hundreds of posts per day, and it was a statement of local 'facts.'  It is in this sense that the Internet is regarded as much less credible than mainstream media.  Verification of facts in such cases is simply not done.

Second, what was a forum webmaster to do anyway?  Well, he/she could call up the Jinhua public security bureau which will issue a denial.  But does that make it false?  Here, one is reminded of what happened in the SARS crisis, the Harbin water crisis and any number of other public incidents.  So what is the forum webmaster's duty anyway?  Is it to take dictation from the authorities, or protect the public interest and/or free speech?

Third, the public security bureau eventually tracked down the individual behind "The Flames Halfway Up The Mountain."  This meant that there was some cooperation from the forum webmasters, electronic mail service providers and/or internet service providers along the way.  Suppose you are one of these intermediaries.  Would you have yielded the information to the public security bureau?  Are you doing evil?  And what is evil here?  Among other things, evil can be (1) violating the privacy and freedom of speech rights of the individual netizen named Hu; (2) helping to suppress the public's right to know that an extremely dangerous murderer is on the loose  in your city; (3) assisting a rumor monger to terrorize the public.  Which is it?