Jun 03

Internet Lynch Mob gets their Fan

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 4:00 pm
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Roland at ESWN gives us this excellent account of the Internet Lynch Mob again blindly rushing after a target… and sadly, this time, it’s gotten the wrong person.

Fan Xiaohua (范晓华) produced the official statement form the Mianzhu Communist Party Committee: “Comrade Fan Xiaohua (范晓华) has not been to Mianyang since May 12. She has not been to the May 1st Plaza of Mianyang. Mianyang and Mianzhu are not the same place. Comrade Fan Xiaohua (范晓华) and her family did not have any tents since May 12, so they could not be staying in one. Each night, Fan Xiaohua (范晓华) and her colleagues slept inside cars. Comrade Fan Xiaohua (范晓华) and her family have never owned a car. The Mianzhu city Communist Youth League car has license number Sichuan F70034. The Sichuan BD3732 license plate has been found to belong to Fan Xiaohua (范小华) of Jiangyou city who is not Mianzhu Communist Youth League secretary Fan Xiaohua (范晓华).

After Fan Xiaohua was involved in first stealing a disaster tent and second assaulting an old woman, arguably, he/she deserved some amount of public scorn. The problem with the Internet Lynch Mob is that it spreads rumors blindly. The Internet Lynch Mob has become judge, jury, executioner in one, and operates with little rational thought and discourse. I increasingly believe it’s becoming a scourage on modern Chinese society.

Roland provided a translation of part of a Southern Metropolis article on this. I’ll translate the rest; I completely agree with its sentiment:

—————- translation begins —————-

In practical terms, Internet-based discussions have become extremely meaningful to Chinese discourse. All of the free postings from netizens has coalesced into an active space for the voices of common men. If netizens adopt a serious attitude, and see their opportunity for free internet speech as an act of preserving their rights as citizens, then internet opinion will become an increasingly accurate representation of society’s opinion. This can act as a more clear reference guide for our government, and also provides traditional media sources a more realistic and logical tone. If theory could become action, then the people’s supervision and monitoring of government will become more effective, and the goal of government serving the people will become more clear. We would see a completely new type of interaction between the people and government. All of this ultimately effects the interests of netizens, because their demands will be more clearly reflected, providing a direct feedback loop.

In 2007, internet speech showed signs of being rational, serious, and focused on practical affairs. It’s also been linked directly to the interests of all citizens: the most awesome nail-house, the South China Tiger, and the Xiamen PX protests are all highlights from last year. But in 2008, because of the uproar in current affairs, internet speech along with a collective surge of emotion amongst average citizens, has sometimes become irrational and difficult to control. The mistaken attacks against Fan Xiaohua fits into this category. People are relaying these mistaken messages, because these rumors are feeding their emotions.

Due to the split personalities of those participating in online discussion, and their unstable behavior, many innocent parties are being hurt. Ultimately, this will lead to tremendous injury to their own bodies. No investigation of evidence; no interest in waiting for the truth to materialize; oppression of rational communication; accustomed to boos, blind action, taking things out of context, personal assaults, and even direct assaults thanks to the “Human Search Engine”…. all of this deserves our most serious attention, and our reconsideration. Because, as the Internet today gathers more and more of this sort of activity and violence, logical voices will choose to leave the field. The true value of active internet discussion will be overwhelmed, and all of society’s expressions of opinion will become mutated. All of the growth China has seen in public discussion thanks to this Internet public platform will be frustrated.

In order to prevent this from happening, please, let everyone treasure the right of speech, and resist internet violence.


One of the suggested solutions for resisting “internet violence” is real-name registration (实名制). This has been widely panned both inside and outside of China as a tool of “government control”, despite the fact democratic South Korea is proceeding with just that kind of a plan. Early attempts to implement real-name registration has largely been resisted in China, and all government campaigns have either been severely diluted or indefinitely postponed. I’m not sure real-name registration is the answer, but I think it’s the time to take another look at this very serious issue.

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9 Responses to “Internet Lynch Mob gets their Fan”

  1. Bob Says:

    OMG, the sky is falling!

    Now trying my best Donald Rumsfeld impersonation: “It’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things.”

    Comparing to what a *free* Iraq has to endure, I’d say China’s much-maligned (by the West) internet storm is as mild and harmless as you can get.

    Nobody is lynched in real life, my friend. So why don’t we just relax let the budding freedom take its course.

  2. rocking offkey Says:

    The onus is on whoever is in the position to provide credibility and rule of law.

    Information is always on the forefront of battlefield, as Bush administration will tell you.

    I don’t know if those net-mob-democracy-shouter-cums realize the most extreme form of democracy is anarchy.

  3. Buxi Says:


    I think we are keeping things in the proper perspective. Compared to Iraq, most nations on earth are doing quite well!

    After all, in free Iraq, the debate of the day might be how many AK47s each family should be allowed to own. All I’m talking about here is real-name-registration. 🙂

    But I will just add that China tends to be a very conservative society, and a bad experience translates into a major backlash. Many believe the riots of 1989 effectively froze political reform for the last 20 years… many of the government controls we take for granted today simply didn’t exist before 1989.

    I personally believe the Internet can play a really critical role in making China a better place, and the Chinese government a better, more efficient entity. But unless we get better control of the situation, it will have the opposite effect.

  4. b. cheng Says:

    Bob’s completely wrong, these “internet lynching” are disasterous and have major real life consequences on the “guilty” and guilty. Basically, their lives are destroyed without ever being tried, only because a couple of teens with an internet connection sought out to make their lives miserable. Real name registration is a good idea and more laws regulating internet discourse need to be passed. Sure, there are people everywhere that will write idle threats on the internet, but when somebody posts somebody else’s address, workplace, and many other identifying information on the net, there is no way for the innocent invidivual to strike back.

  5. EugeneZ Says:

    It would be wrong to further restrict freedom of speech on the internet using measures like “real name registration”, for the sake of internet lynch mob, or otherwise. Have you thought through the negative consequence, especially the long term consequence of the “real name registration”? Internet is the best thing that has happened to China, in terms of giving the average citizens a voice of their own, regardless how intelliegnt, reasoned, or biased /radical/irrational.

    Internet lynch mob is a serious matter, and must be dealt with, where there is real damage to the victims, the offenders should be punished according to law. But it needs to be put in perspective. Did anybody count the scale, or the number of incidences, in the context of 300 million internet users in China. We all know that traffic accidents on freeway kill people, do we go out and make driving on freeway illegal? Must weight the pros vs. cons in the overall skeme of things. That is called rationality.

    We also need to be more patient with the process of China developing itseld into a more modern society. It is a process for the general public to become more responsible and more self-restrained with their behavior on the internet. Given time, reason and logic will win, as someone on this blog wisely pointed out.

  6. Nimrod Says:

    EugeneZ, real name registration is intriguing and links into many deeper questions on the limits of privacy. In reality, the internet not only gives people an anonymous forum, but it also takes away traditional privacy “rights” (I put it in quotes because they aren’t really enshrined) by virtue of the ease with which public or locally public information can be combined. This is indeed how the human search engine works.

    For a time I thought this was a terrible thing, because it killed the anonymity of the internet, but then I realized it was just going back to the way things were. Is anonymity such a great thing? A very smart person remarked to me that with technological advancement, privacy will be a thing of the past. I’m talking about insect-sized flying cameras, and all sorts of things like that. There will be no privacy at all. Having a real name registration isn’t bad, it just puts everybody on equal ground. After all, the human search engine can find you anyway, if you are interesting enough.

  7. Bob Says:

    Hmm, not sure how exactly I left the impression that I was opposed to reasonable measures such as real-name registration you guys proposed.

    My objection is that this “Chinese Internet Lynch Mob” crap has essentially replaced the good ol’ derogatory term “Chinaman” used pervasively by China/Chinese-haters in racist (mostly) Western media to demean Chinese, and to inflame and perpetuate the Yellow Peril / Red Scare sentiment all over again in the new age.

    I perfectly understand the thrust for a well-regulated internet in China, given the seemingly chaotic nature in its current state. But before more restrictions are put in place to scrutinize average users, we can just learn to take the good with the bad. Speaking of something really bad, I watched the movie “Untraceable” over the weekend. I have to admit Hollywood never ceases to amaze me with its wild imagination. *Snicker*

  8. Buxi Says:


    You make a good point. But to be honest, I don’t think the “negative consequences” of real name registration are that significant.

    To be clear: I’m not saying that we all need to publish our names every time we post. I don’t need to know where you live and what you do, just to allow you to post on this blog.

    But at the end of the day, I believe we have to put our trust in the government and the legal system. (In China’s case, real-name registration needs to come together with more legal reform.) I’m not sure exactly what kind of Internet laws should exist yet, but I believe the Internet space must be run by law and order. And to do that, we have to start with real name registration!

  9. Buxi Says:


    I don’t think the West really has much of a clue about the Chinese Internet in general. I also dislike the Western media’s treatment of the Wang Qianyuan story…

    But as Chinese… I think we all have to realize how meaningful, important, and significant the Internet is becoming in Chinese society. It’s going to be far more significant in China than it is in the West. I believe it’s going to be the backbone of Chinese society in the 21st century. And we have every reason to think about how it’s going to develop.

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