China's internet vigilantes and the "human flesh search engine"

At its worst, the ghoulishly named “flesh-searching” phenomenon is cyberbullying on an epic scale, sometimes involving hundreds of thousands of anonymous Chinese internet surfers ganging up to uncover the identity of an unsuspecting target. Users band together to uncover a person’s identity – sometimes a suspected adulterer, sometimes an animal abuser.

The phenomenon first scored attention in 2006, when many in China began to turn to the internet for the majority of their entertainment. The use of internet forums exploded during that period.

One of the first notorious cases involved the search for a woman who starred in an anonymous video using the high heel of her stiletto to crush a kitten’s skull. The woman, who turned out to be a nurse, was suspended from her job when her identity was revealed. She received numerous death threats and considered suicide, Chinese state television reported.

Hundreds of similar cases followed.