The First "Human Flesh Search" Trial
(yWeekend) Will the first "human flesh search" trial set restrictions on the practice? By Chen Wanying. July 31, 2008.
The first "human flesh search" case is progressing slowly through the Chinese court system. There are some new developments in the matter of the suicide earlier this year of a Beijing white-collar female worker over the infidelity of her husband. The husband Wang Fei was the target of "human flesh search" by netizens, and his personal information was published on the Internet and that led to some harassment. Wang went and sued the websites. This is the first ever case that a Chinese court has accepted such a case of violation on personal rights on the Internet. At the first hearing, the Beijing city Chaoyang district court found that the case was very complicated and involved many issues. Therefore, the court has switched from the simple trial by a single judge to a regular panel of judges. On June 26, the court even convened a meeting with Internet and legal scholars. On July 9, the court held a meeting of 54 judges.
What are the obligations of a website? What information is private on the Internet? How are personal interests and freedom of speech to be balanced? When that strong-headed woman leapt to her death, a moral trial was triggered which will ultimately lead to a verdict on the limits of Internet speech.
The deceased Jiang Yan
Jiang Yan was a 31-year-old Beijing resident. Her life ended forever on December 29, 2007. On that night, she leapt from the verandah of her 24-th story Beijing apartment and died. Afterwards, her blog titled "Migratory Bird Going North" was opened by a netizen friend by arrangement. This blog had been closed by Jiang Yan in October and it recorded the infidelity of her husband Wang Fei as well as her own pains and despair. It also hinted at the wish to commit suicide.
The contents of the blog were quickly distributed around the Internet. The Daqi website made a special report on January 10, 2008; Tianya published the post <Hello everybody, this is the sister of Jiang Yan> on the same day; Jiang Yan's classmate Zhang Yueyi registered the "Migratory Bird Going North" blog on January 11. The contents of these three sources disclosed the real names of Wang Fei, Dong Fang (the so-called "third party" according to the Internet) as well as the home addresses and the company where they worked. There were contents such as "Wang Fei refused to show up for the funeral" and "Wang Fei has a new love."
Netizens pilloried Wang Fei and that "third-party" over the sorrows of Jiang Yan, and then they quickly initiated a "human flesh search." The information on the job positions, home addresses and telephone numbers of Wang Fei and the "third party" were located. Some irate netizens began to make "telephone harassing calls" and "painting words on the door" to harass Wang Fei, who was quickly dismissed by his employer.
In March 2008, Wang Fei sued Daqi, Tianya and the "Migratory Bird Going North" blog in the Chaoyang district court. This was the first time that "human flesh search" and "Internet violence" were brought into the judiciary domain.
"I feel that he is a very honest person, as opposed to some slick operator. He speaks in a low voice and very cautiously." On July 28, the legal representative Zhang Yanfeng for the plaintiff Wang Fei told the yWeekend reporter about his first encounter.
The plaintiff has given only one interview, and that was on television with his back turned to the camera. But the employer, home address, personal telephone number and photos were widely circulated on the Internet in January.
It all began on January 10. Two ordinary netizens posted the contents of Jiang Yan's blog onto the "entertainment gossip" section of the Tianya forum. The contents included Wang Fei's job, the identity of the "third party", their photo together, their office address, etc. On that afternoon, some netizens had determined the name of the exact company where Wang Fei and the "third party" worked. Netizens began to call the company up and demand a statement.
At 8pm on January 11, the company declared on the "entertainment gossip" section of the Tianya forum that Wang Fei and the "third party" have left their jobs.
During this time, the Wang and Jiang families had not reached an agreement so that Jiang Yan was not buried yet. The attitude of Wang Fei incensed netizens even more so.
On January 16, some netizens went on an "expedition" to Wang Fei's home and posted the phrases "a good wife was forced to die" and "a blood debt shall be paid in blood."
The opinion of Wang Fei's lawyer Zhang Yanfeng was: "An unprepared person was knocked to the ground without any chance for an explanation."
In fact, Wang Fei had attempted to explain. On January 12, Wang Fei used the identity "stigmata2000" to make a post titled <Following the entry of the police, Internet monitoring agency and the lawyer, the truth will be quickly known> at Tianya in his own defense.
But Wang Fei did not identify himself in this post. Instead, he wrote it from a third-person perspective to tell the netizens that it was Jiang Yan's fault that the marriage had failed and led to the tragedy at the end. He wrote: "Justice only exists in reality."
But the comments from the netizens shocked Wang Fei.
"Heavens! I'm am really incensed! Why don't you make up some even more shameless lies!" -- freezingcc 2008-1-12 1:41:21
"What a far-stretched piece! Anyone with commonsense would know that if she had the kind of character that you described, she would not have resorted to suicide. Netizens are not as stupid as you imagine." -- Rainy season sunflower 2008-1-12 1:55:17
At first, lawyer Zhang Yanfeng could not understand why Wang Fei wanted to file a lawsuit. "It was February by then, and netizen interest had weakened significantly. Even if the lawsuit ends in a victory, it wouldn't do much good."
But Wang Fei told him about his anonymous post. He believes that he is unable to explain himself on the Internet, and the only way to clear his name is through litigation.
One day in February this year, Wang Fei showed up alone at the office of Zhang Yanfeng. He brought some printed web pages with him, all of which were vituperative words directed at him by netizens. "Is there a case here?" he asked lawyer Zhang. Who do you sue? For what? Nothing is clear.
How about suing the first netizen who posted the contents of Jiang Yan's blog onto the forums? Zhang Yanfeng vetoed that. "The Chinese Internet is not based upon real-name registration of users. Even if there is an ID, can the person be found? Do we have to rely on the police? That is too much trouble."
After the death of Jiang Yan, a netizen using the ID "Goodbye is forever" posted <Hello everybody, this is the sister of Jiang Yan> at the Tianya forum. The post confirmed the facts and disclosed the relevant family details of Wang Fei.
What about suing Jiang Hong?
"There are two problems here. First, can we prove that Jiang Hong made that post? We are required to provide the evidence. Secondly, Wang Fei does not want to continue to tangle with Jiang's family. The feeling was that it is unacceptable to sue Jiang Yan's sister."
In the end, they decided to suit the websites.
"I believe that the information is illegal. In the <Administrative regulations for Internet information>, it is stated that websites cannot carry illegal information. The website operator has the duty to delete any illegal information. The illegal information has been present on the Internet for several months and the websites have not removed them. They must surely bear some responsibility. We'll sue the websites. The websites are easier to sue." Zhang Yanfei told the yWeekend reporter.
Wang Fei told Zhang Yanfei that he informed the Tianya forum at around January 10, 2008. Tianya perfunctorily deleted a small amount of information but did not fulfill the request of the plaintiff as well as the duty as required by the law. At Tianya, the reporter saw that on January 10, some netizens were complaining in the section on administrative issues that their posts about Jiang Yan were deleted. The administrator of the "entertainment gossip" section at Tianya explained as follows: "1. The deletions were made by the editor-on-duty and the administrator has no right to interfere with those operations. 2. The editor-on-duty makes deletion for a reason. Please understand and support us. Personally, I feel that it is disrespectful to disclose private details about individuals especially when the principal is deceased. Please understand."
After collecting the posts made by the netizens, Zhang Yanfei let Wang Fei go to a notary company to certify the evidence. Before that even occurred, Zhang Yanfei went to court to file the case. But he never anticipated that the case would turn into a dark hole.
"It was a lot of trouble to file the case. I went there many times. Some judges did not think that there was an invasion of privacy, because there is a lot of similar information on the Internet. Some even asked whether we knew who made the posts. Some of the judges said that our evidence was incomplete. Some of the posts were in English, and I had to find a translation company to translate them into Chinese. After a few rounds, the last judge was a younger person. Perhaps he was more familiar with the Internet, he accepted the case without another word." Zhang Yanfei said.
"If this incident had occurred off the Internet, I could win this case for sure." Zhang Yanfei claimed to have a lot of experience in rights violation cases. The reporter observed that he has classified the "personal attacks" by the netizens into a table by type.
"Previously, I was not aware of this incident. I seldom go to forums such as Tianya. When I saw the information that Wang Fei provided to me, my first reaction was that this was really going too far!" Zhang Yanfei said. Wang Fei told him a version of the story that was not the same as the one circulating on the Internet.
"For example, the Internet says that Jiang Yan paid for the living expenses of Wang Fei for five years. Wang Fei has the savings passbook and remittance notices from his father as evidence that his parents paid for his living expenses. In addition, netizens said that before Jiang Yan was even buried, Wang Fei went with the 'third party' to Shanghai for leisure. A photo was even posted on the Internet. Wang Fei showed me the photo and asked, 'Do you think that this looks like me? It isn't me.' I looked carefully and it was not him."
"The Internet version of the story is: Wang Fei admits that his entire family has met Dong Fang and she is even staying at his parents' place. The parents call her the lovely little angel. This is libel, because the parents of Wang Fei said that Dong Fang has gone to eat at their place only once. 'Wang Fei is fighting with the family of the deceased over the estate' is also libel. Calling Wang Fei a 'despicable man' constitutes an insult. There is even more that goes farther than this!" Zhang Yanfei told the reporter as he flipped through the <Summary table of the main evidence>.
Based upon this information, Zhang Yanfeng believes that most of the information circulation on the Internet is inaccurate and constitutes libel. The derogatory terms used by the irate netizens for Wang Fei is regarded as "insults" by Zhang Yanfeng.
Zhang Yueyi is a university classmate of Jiang Yan. When Jiang Yan passed away, Zhang Yueyi established a website on January 11 to commemorate her. Wang Fei believes that this website published information on his family and thus invaded his privacy and damaged his reputation. Therefore, Zhang Yueyi was listed as a defendant.
Whereas the plaintiff Wang Fei was wary about everything, the defendant Zhang Yueyi has gone on vacation in Qinghai. Since it was not easy for him to get access to a telephone, he could not be interviewed. Instead, the reporter spoke to his legal representative Li Chunyi.
Li Chunyi told the yWeekend reporter that there is nothing libelous in the three blog posts written by Jiang Hong. At the court hearing, both sides offered large amounts of evidence. For example, the plaintiff offered the savings passbook and remittance notices to show that Wang Fei did not complete school through the financial help from Jiang Yan as alleged. The defendant offered a rebuttal: "These items merely showed that the Wang family sent money to Wang Fei between September 2002 and 2004. This only establishes that Wang received financial aid from his own family while he studied. It does not establish what the total expenses had been, nor what that money was really used for. The possibility cannot be excluded that Wang Fei was receiving financial aid from Jiang Yan. Besides, in the blog post dated November 24, 2007, Jiang Yan recorded the fact that she had been responsible for the living expenses of the couple for a long time."
"During the entire hearing process, our suggestions were repeatedly confirmed by the evidence provided by the other side. We offered the telephone records of Jiang Yan and they offered those of the father of Wang Fei. The records match each other completely, and they are perfectly consistent with what Jiang Hong wrote about the matter." Li Chunyi said.
At the third court hearing, the lawyer for the other side admitted for the first time that Wang Fei has a "third party." At the time, Zhang Yueyi asked the other side, "Why did the principal say in front of the national media, especially in response to the question from CCTV twice, that no such relationship exists? Did you lie to all of society, or did Wang Fei lie to his lawyer and the law?"
"The plaintiff had no reply. We are very glad to see that there are doubts about the details of the case." Li Chunyi said.
On January 11, thirteen days after the death of Jiang Yan, her university classmate Zhang Yueyi established a commemorative blog named "Migratory Bird Going North" with the same name as Jiang Yan's own blog. Wang Fei believes that this website published insulting and libelous information about himself and his family. But Li Chunyi told the reporter that Zhang Yueyi started this website precisely because he was worried that the situation at the commercial websites was getting out of control.
On January 16, netizens went to write graffiti at the entrance of the family home of Wang Fei. On January 17, the "Migratory Bird Going North" website said that the "Jiang Yan affair will be solved by legal means" and the sister Jiang Hong also stated that "uninvolved persons" should not be harassed.
Li Chunyi is dissatisfied with the case being labeled the "first case over human flesh search." He does not believe that the netizen action was "Internet violence."
"I believe that the typical case of Internet violence is to run a 'human flesh search' on a person who has done no wrong and then publish that information. For example, the little girl who said 'very yellow, very violent' was 'searched' just for uttering that one phrase. But when an adult did something wrong and caused grave harm to his wife and her family, why shouldn't society know about this? The Internet is a place where public opinion is collected together. The netizens are not loiterers who roam the Internet and look to condemn people without verifying the information. Let me say that the information that had not been verified is now turning out to be verified facts which Wang Fei even admits to. So why can't people offer a negative opinion about him?"
With respect to the protection of privacy on the Internet, Li Chunyi offered his personal view. "Some people think that gunfights movie cause robberies. So does not mean that anyone who makes a gunfight movie should be locked up? For the same reason, I think the protection of privacy cannot be regulated by saying that certain information are private and cannot be made public. There ought to be legislation that regulates how people use information that was obtained through searching."
After the personal and family information of Wang Fei was published, many netizens got together to demonstrate. They even wrote the words "A good wife was driven to die; a blood debt shall be repaid with blood" on the wall outside the home of the parents of Wang Fei. Li Chunyi also felt that this action was improper. But does this mean that this is something that needs to be addressed during this trial?
"Our country has a <Draft Law To Protect Personal Information>. I have studied it. This draft law does not try to protect personal information from the angle of protecting privacy. Rather it attempts to offer protection from the angle of information usage." Li Chunyi said.
April 17 was the date of the first court hearing of the case of Wang Wei versus the websites. Netizens came to Beijing from elsewhere to attend. "Broken bowstring" is one of those netizens. She regards Jiang Yan as a "real sister" and she wanted to witness the court verdict. But she did not get her wish. After the first hearing, she returned to Zhejiang province where she awaits the final verdict of the court. She declined to be interviewed by the reporter, but she provided the links to the livecasts from the netizens at the scene.
At the court hearings on April 17, May 27 and July 9, Tianya users went to attend the court hearings and made live reports using mobile phone SMS. The information is incomplete.
"The so-called evidence from Wang Fei's lawyer was ripped to shreds, and it seems that we have the upper hand at this time." -- Qi Nan 2008-4-17 10:46:41
"Wang's lawyer offered the phone records of his brother and said that Wang had used that phone to speak. Zhang believes that this showed that Wang did not carry out his duties and left everything to his brother." -- The Paper Clip In The Corner
"Frontline reporter news: Wang thinks that seeking justice for Jiang Yan means attacking him. He said that Dong Fang has only been to the Wang home only once; that they are not co-habiting; that they traveled overseas due to company arrangements; that the savings in the bank belonged to him; that Wang's father did not call Jiang Yan and only sent one SMS; that Wang Fei actively took care of the funeral arrangements." -- Tou DE Yunyun 2008-04-17 9:47:25
The "frontline reporter" mentioned in these posts are the netizens who went to observe the court proceedings. Whenever a flash came from the scene, netizens made comments and the pages grew rapidly. When the reporter mentioned that the netizens were doing livecasts from the court, Wang Fei's lawyer Zhang Yanfeng interrupted and laughed: "The livecasts by the netizens are biased. How could I end up being at a loss for words? We are the victims and we have a lot to say."
"Attention! Please continue the livecasts. I want to see how the law can carry out the public will. I want to see how heartless cads such as Wang Fei be spat upon!" This comment from netizen "121.232.144.*" is typical. Most of the netizens came to court to see how the "most unwise lawsuit in history" will fail. But after several hearings, the court and the media were not concerned about the illegality of the extramarital relationship. Instead, they were focused on the so-called "Internet violence."
In a SMS during the second court hearing, the netizen "Qi Nan" sent this message: "Our netizen friend Xiu Jia was interviewed by a female CCTV reporter before the session began and said: 'It was not very appropriate to post the information on Wang Fei, but we don't have a better way of expressing our anger.' Based upon what the female reporter is saying, her emphasis seems to be on Internet violence. Xiu Jia is concerned that CCTV has got her into saying something that will be used against her."
Whereas the two lawyers were brimming with confidence, the Chaoyang court which was hearing this case was very, very cautious. They held three hearings and they raised the case from a "simplified process" to "normal process." On June 26, they even organized a meeting among Internet and legal scholoars to discuss the case. On July 9, they gathered 54 judges to discuss how to decide this case. What were the judges being stuck on?
Lawyer Zhang Yueyi said: The "Migratory Bird Going North" website was publishing information that was already known on the Internet, and therefore that information cannot be considered "private." The lawyer for Wang Fei held the opposite view.
Not only do the two sides disagree, but there were differences in opinion among among the experts at the June 26 meeting held at the Chaoyang court.
Chinese Renmin University Civil Law Professor Yao Hui participated in that meeting. When interviewed by the yWeekend reporter, Yao Hui recalled how he had a difference of opinion with another expert, Beijing Telecommunications University Associate Professor Liu Deliang about what constitutes 'private information" on the Internet.
"It is somewhat controversial among the academics just what is private information after the Internet came along. I personally view private information as that which one is unwilling to let others know about. Right now, people treat their mobile phone numbers as private information but I don't agree with that. I believe that there is an issue of freedom of speech here. Another issue is that we should know that the disclosure of the information would not cause mental harm to the person. Damage often occur as a result of misuse of information. This type of misuse violates other rights but not that of privacy." Professor Liu Deliang said.
Yao Hui begs to differ.
"Although there are no laws in China that define what the right to privacy is, it is possible to discern the legal rules from the textbooks. Is your mobile telephone number private information? If you voluntarily provide it, then it is no longer private information. But if someone else posted it on the Internet without your permission, is that an invasion of privacy?"
Yao Hui believes that the most difficult part of this case is about the balance between personal rights for the individual and freedom of speech for the public.
"Based upon what I know, the judges are also stuck on this issue now and they are worried. If we just look at one aspect, then it is easy to say the defendants violated Wang Fei's right to privacy. I don't think that there is any problem. But there is another value -- how can we defend the netizens' freedom of speech? I think that the difficulty lies in the balance between these two sets of interests and the clash between these two values." Yao Hui told the yWeekend reporter.
"If you were the judge, how would you try to balance the relationship between the two?" The reporter asked.
Yao Hui laughed on the other end of the phone line. "Frankly speaking, I have my ideas but I am afraid to reveal them publicly. First of all, even if I say it, people won't listen to me. Secondly, I am very careful when it comes to the Internet and I respect them. In this case, I am looking forward to see how the joint court will ultimately write in the verdict document. Actually, there are no grand issues involved in this case and there are no issues about which laws are applicable. The key is how the judges will decide. If their interpretation is good, this will become a very significant legal precedent. It depends on the wisdom of the judges!"
Lawyer Li Chunyi mentioned a draft <Law To Protect Personal Information>. In his view, if this law were to exist, then misuse of information would be regulated and there is no need to use "invasion of privacy" to block the dissemination of information.
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Zhou Hanhua was the leader of the team that drafted the law. After the "Sexy Photo Gate" episode, Zhou Hanhua told the media that the right to privacy should be clearly established under the law as an independent personal right.
"The name, address, date of birth, identification card number, medical records, employment records, photos and other independent information that can be used to identify specific persons should be listed as 'personal information.'" Zhou Hanhua said.
These are precisely the contents that Wang Fei is suing the three websites over. But Wang Fei is obviously not being protected by the <Law to Protect Personal Information> at this time.
Experts also mentioned the scope and limits of the responsibilities of the websites. An expert suggested that websites such as Tianya and Daqi rely on their users to make posts. Therefore, their duties are clear: as soon as they uncover something, they should report to the relevant authorities; and they should keep records of the IP addresses for 60 days in case there is an investigation. This information is reviewed after the fact. If there is any illegal content, the information should be deleted immediately. Therefore, the duties of such websites are limited to making a report afterwards and keeping the relevant records.
The major battlefield of the Jiang Yan affair took place at the "entertainment gossip" section of the Tianya forum. This time, Tianya was listed by Wang Fei as a defendant but they have not sent a legal representative to attend the court proceedings so far. Will they behave differently once the formal court trial begins? The reporter noticed a post at the top of the "entertainment gossip" section: <[Notice] Declaration about the handling of extreme and explosive posts>. The contents are as follows:
Recently, there have been far too many posts that are extreme or concern private information. Many netizens post in haste and then regret the unnecessary disputes afterwards. Therefore, they ask the administrators to delete those posts. According to the rules of the forum, a post becomes the public property of the community after it is posted and commented upon. Normally, a request to delete will not be honored. Therefore, netizens are advised to be careful about what they post and avoid causing grief for themselves and others carelessly.
Concerning this type of posts, the various administrators have discussed and decided that when a problem occurs, the post will be closed for comments but it will not be deleted. So think carefully before you act!
Entertainment Gossip section administrative team
This notice was posted on March 8, 2008. At that time, the Jiang Yan affair had taken place. Why would they still propose the policy of "no deletion"? The yWeekend reporter contacted one of the administrators of the "entertainment gossip" section.
"Every day, we get requests to delete posts like these. Especially now, more and more people want to delete the personal information that they left behind unwittingly several years ago because they are concerned that they may be exposed by the human flesh search engines. Personally speaking, I am willing to delete such posts provided that they are not high in public attention. In the end, I do not think that the value of the human flesh search is about ordinary people and events. There is no need to allow this sort of thing to happen so frequently in real life, especially if the information is being used for illegal purposes."
But the information about Wang Fei and the "third party" can still found at the Tianya forum. Why weren't they deleted?
"The Jiang Yan affair has become a public affair, and therefore requires a different approach to deal with it. The Jiang Yan affair reflects a big debate about moral views in society, it involves the elements of a crime, and it has social values. Tianya is not a news outlet. It is a huge platform for netizens to communicate freely with each other and express their own views. It contains all sorts of viewpoints and angles. It is diversified and it is free."
But this administrator told the reporter that if the principal asks to delete certain specific posts that involves personal information, it is still possible. But there is no expectation that the volunteer administrators should be able to pre-screen beforehand.
The MOP Hodgepodge forum is publicly acknowledged as the place of origin for human flesh searching. But in all the previous disputes about human flesh searches and Internet rights violations, MOP is rarely mentioned. Du Peiyuan is the person in charge of the MOP Hodgepodge tells and the reporter that MOP is more restrictive with respect to deleting any posts.
"Any posts pertaining to private information will be deleted. It may not be deleted immediately, because it make take some time before our workers read them. But all posts will be seen at least once. When an important human flesh search becomes a public affair, we may even use certain key information about the principals as keywords to be filtered out. The netizens won't be able to post on them." Du Peiyuann said.
Du Peiyuan has an interesting understanding of human flesh search. "People have a far too narrow understanding of 'human flesh search' and they seem to connect it with Internet violence. Actually, how many of the human flesh searches every day has to do with looking for personal information? For example, at MOP, people are more often seeking help to find useful information."
Du Peiyuan told the reporter that there is no uniform system among the various websites, so that the action of one website does not mean much in the dissemination of information. "I don't know if the Wang Fei case will cause the authorities to come up with a systematic set of administrative rules."
"I am pessimistic on that. I do not feel that there will be any new regulations." Yao Hui said.
But Wang Fei's lawyer Zhang Yanfeng has high hopes for the "first case": "Wang Fei stood up and sued. First of all, he wants to defend his own rights. Secondly, he wants to use litigation to put a stop on the proliferation of Internet violence. Therefore, his lawsuit carries a certain public interest."
(South China Morning Post) Victim of internet 'lynch mob' wins compensation. By Hu Huifeng. December 19, 2008.
A man who was "lynched" on the internet after his wife revealed his extramarital affair before killing herself will receive 3,000 yuan (HK$3,400) from a mainland website and 5,000 yuan from one of his wife's friends, Xinhua reported yesterday.
In a landmark decision by Beijing's Chaoyang District Court, Zhang Leyi , the wife's friend, and Daqi.com must compensate Wang Fei for the mental suffering, invasion of privacy and damage to his reputation that resulted when the website and the netizen said the plaintiff's wife, Jiang Yan, had committed suicide because of his affair.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind on the mainland involving a "human flesh search", and the legal action raised a nationwide debate over whether the National People's Congress should tighten laws regarding online activities.
The report cited the court as saying Daqi.com and Mr Zhang had defamed and violated Mr Wang's privacy by releasing information online about the extramarital affair and publishing personal details, including pictures and his employer's name. The release of the information triggered a storm of rebuke online that spilled over into real life, resulting in the plaintiff losing his job and his family being threatened.
Jiang committed suicide in December last year after she detailed her husband's affair, to which he confessed in court, in an online diary over two months. Twelve hours after the suicide, an unnamed netizen posted Jiang's diaries on a popular bulletin board, and in January, Mr Zhang set up a personal website, revealing further details of the affair and some of Mr Wang's personal information.
On January 14, Daqi.com launched a special package of reports on Jiang's suicide and Mr Wang's affair. Jiang's diary was quickly picked up by internet users who, in turn, used search engines to find and post more personal information about Mr Wang, his alleged mistress, his employer and his family. In April, Mr Wang sued the defendants for invading his privacy and damaging his reputation.
Hundreds of netizens nationwide reportedly flew to Beijing to attend the hearing later that month.
(Xinhua) Web site ordered to pay damages to China's first "virtual lynching" victim. December 19, 2008.
A Chinese Web site and a netizen were ordered by the People's Court in Beijing Thursday to compensate the plaintiff in China's first case on Renrou Search Engine that launched a "virtual lynching" by netizens who search for and reveal targets' private information. The defendants, Daqi.com, Tianya.com and a netizen named Zhang Leyi, who established orionchris.cn, were sued by Wang Fei for posting his deceased wife's blog. His wife, Jiang Yan, killed herself after discovering her husband was having an affair. The personal blog recorded the two-months preceding Jiang Yan's suicide. The blog revealed the real name and addresses of Wang Fei, which triggered many netizens to publicly harass Wang and his family. Daqi.com and Zhang Leyi were ordered to compensate Wang 3,000 yuan (about 441 U.S. dollars) and 5,000 yuan (about 735 U.S. dollars) respectively for emotional duress. Tianya.com was not ordered to pay damages because it tried to control the situation by deleting information related to Wang, the judge of the court said.
Wang said that he had lost his company job after netizens called his office to tell the story to his colleagues. He says they posted obscenities on the doors of his parents' apartment, and that the media reported his story in a "negative way." "It has seriously hampered my normal life," Wang said.
Jiang Yan closed her blog two months before she died in December 2007. Prior to her death, she gave her password to an online friend. Her sister, Jiang Hong, got the password from the friend after she died and posted her sister's "Death Blog" on Tianya.com. The blog spread from one Web site to another and triggered a series of debates over the cause of Jiang's death and the betrayal of her husband. Netizens launched a massive search on Renrou (literally "human flesh") Search Engine and discovered Want's address and phone number. Vigilant netizens then "avenged" Wang's wife with personal attacks against Wang on the internet. Wang Fei said he was a victim of Renrou Search.
Zhang Leyi, a college mate of Jiang Yan, established orionchris.cn in January when he learned Jiang's death. This spurred a massive "Renrou Search" for more information about the couple's private life. Daqi.com made the blog the focus of a special Web page, It revealed the real names of the couple and Wang's mistress, photos of Wang Fei and his new spouse and the curse words written on Wang's home on January 14 2008.
Wang confessed the love affair during the trial. The judge said Chinese law of marriage prescribes that couples be faithful to each other. Wang's behavior not only broke the law but also offended the moral standard of the society -- as Jiang Yan's sorrow was evident in her blog. But the behavior of Daqi.com invaded Wang's privacy by revealing his personal information. The Web page was an ordinary news report but the names of the involved parties and other private information should have been withheld, the judge said.
The case would be a standard for future virtual lynching cases, the judge said.
Renrou Search sometimes offers a service of justice for the society, said a netizen who identified herself as Ayawawa. She said she had joined the search to seek revenge against the man who betrayed his wife. A friend of Wang's who identified himself as Jia said that the Renrou Search was "online violence." The Renrou Search Engine sprouted in recent years, said Yule, head of the Renrou Search section of Mop.com. The Mop standardized its Renrou search to try to encourage netizens to do good things with the search -- for example, helping families find missing relatives, Yule said. The Renrou Search did not promote "online violence", he said.