Chinese Supreme Court makes service providers liable for "human flesh search engine"

Chinese Internet services are blessed and cursed with mobs who track down the personal details of people suspected of corruption or just bad public behavior, shaming them in a way that is highly public and indelible.

At the best, these "human flesh search engines" out corrupt officials and their families -- for example, the stories of "princelings" (sons of powerful officials) who get away with murder (literally); and the persistent rumors that rich Chinese people use body-doubles to do their prison time when convicted of crimes.

At worst, though, these mobs produce the kinds of predictable tragedies that we're already familiar with from western contexts, from out-of-control slut-shaming to false accusations of high crimes that are impossible to rebut.

The new Supreme Court rules recruit social media companies and other service providers to end the practice, by making them liable for collecting and turning over the identifying information of whistleblowers and other participants in the "human flesh search engines."

If you're interested in learning more about how Chinese network control works, including the rise of "human flesh search engines" and the Chinese state equivalent, the "50 Cent Army" (people paid RMB0.50/post to cast doubt on messages about corruption and unfairness in the Chinese state), the best work is Rebecca MacKinnon's 2012 indispensable book Consent of the Networked; also see this great episode of the TVO podcast Search Engine from 2009.

According to the document, those refusing to provide the information without a legitimate reason will face punishments under the civil procedure law.

Network service providers should also be held accountable if they are aware that their users have committed online violations of personal rights but fail to take action.

Meanwhile, those re-posting content that violates others’ rights and interests will also answer for their actions, and their liability will be determined based on the consequences of their posts, the online influence of re-posters, and whether they make untruthful changes to content that mislead.

“If you are a verified celebrity, your obligations when re-posting online information are greater than those of the general public. An ordinary person’s errors when re-posting might only be deemed slight,” Yao said.

Rules to protect personal rights online [Xinhua/Shanghai Daily]

(via /.)