Monday, August 19, 2013

Broken Accusation: Human Flesh Search

The Accusation:
When Fu Ping's book started to face a public backlash from the Chinese and Chinese-American community, some in the west media characterized the phenomenon as an operation of "human flesh search".

On February 4, 2013, Katie Baker wrote on The Daily Beast:
The Amazon attack bears elements of the type of Internet bullying—known by the ominous phrase “human flesh search”—that is increasingly common among Chinese bloggers. “Coordinated Netizen action against an individual is not at all unusual in China,” says Emily Parker, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and an expert on the Internet and democracy. (Parker cautions that she is unfamiliar with Ping’s case and therefore cannot speculate on who might be behind the attacks.)  
While the human flesh search phenomenon has helped expose injustice, it also has been trained on individuals to humiliate them publicly or to punish those who do not align with a strongly nationalist viewpoint. Indeed, recent hacking attacks on prominent American media outlets seem to have been aimed at publications deemed critical of China’s leaders. 
Joe Nocera was even more blunt in his New York Times piece in late June, 2013:
In other words, Fu is the classic immigrant success story. You’d think that would be a source of pride for Chinese immigrants. Instead, she has been subjected to what they call in China a “human flesh search” — an Internet vigilante campaign designed to bring shame on its target. 
The Debunking:
In the eyes of Katie Baker and Joe Nocera, the scarily named "human flesh search" must be some sort of evil reincarnation. However, people who are more familiar with China tend to have a different viewpoint. Indeed, Wikipedia's entry puts the term in a much neutral and even positive light:
Human flesh search engine (Chinese: 人肉搜索; pinyin: Rénròu Sōusuǒ) is a primarily Chinese internet phenomenon of massive researching using Internet media such as blogs and forums. It has generally been stigmatized as being for the purpose of identifying and exposing individuals to public humiliation, sometimes out of vigilantism, nationalist or patriotic sentiments, or to break the Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China.[1][2] More recent analyses, however, have shown that it is also used for a number of other reasons, including exposing government corruption, identifying hit and run drivers, and exposing scientific fraud, as well as for more "entertainment" related items such as identifying people seen in pictures. A categorization of hundreds of HFS episodes can be found in the 2010 IEEE Computer paper A Study of the Human Flesh Search Engine: Crowd-Powered Expansion of Online Knowledge.[3] 
The system is based on massive human collaboration. The name refers both to the use of knowledge contributed by human beings through social networking, as well as the fact that the searches are usually dedicated to finding the identity of a human being who has committed some sort of offense or social breach online.[4] People conducting such research are commonly referred to collectively as "Human Flesh Search Engines".
If this human flesh search engine were employed in Fu Ping's affair, it would have been a good use case of exposing fraud.

But sadly, Katie Baker and Joe Nocera were not even correct in invoking this term. As the wiki entry explained, the primary purpose of the "flesh search" is to identify anonymous individuals who had committed offense or breach. Fu Ping qualifies for the latter characteristics, but she is definitely not anonymous. There was never any need to launch a massive search for her identity.

It is of course perceivable that the "flesh search" could be employed to identify some of the key characters in Fu Ping's life, such as her cousins in Shanghai and the mysterious "Uncle W", who could shed a lot more light in validating her story. It did not happen. To this day, these people have stayed anonymous with their privacy intact, a fact that speaks volumes to the decency of those being accused by Baker, Nocera, and the like.

On the other hand, Katie Baker and Joe Nocera should be more familiar with another derogatory-sounding term: Muckraker, a fine and proud tradition of their chosen profession.

Quite substantial amount of investigative work have indeed been carried out and are continuing in verifying Fu Ping's story. So far, indisputable evidences have been recovered that she had falsified her resumes multiple times ever since the early 1990s, if not earlier. She has exaggerated her role in NCSA and the development of Mosaic browser. These are on tops of the multiple lies she had told in her book and interviews.

Fu Ping is not a simple private citizen. She is a close adviser to President Obama with influence to the national policy in technology and innovation. She was proclaimed by the USCIC as an exemplary citizen by choice while the circumstances of her getting a green card was questionable at best.

But the mainstream western media has stayed silent. They have ignored their duty and responsibility of due diligence as they happily and blindly played the role of cheerleader. That in itself may be understandable. But when a large group of volunteers who decided to take up the role of citizen journalists and rake up more and more muck under the covers of Fu Ping, they were labeled as "attackers" and "vigilantes" by the professionals like Baker and Nocera.

Now, that is injustice.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Broken Accusation: Chinese Hacker Attack

The Accusation:
From the beginning of the controversy, Fu Ping sought to link the criticism of her book with the story of "Chinese hacker attack" on western governments and media. During the question and answer session after a speech in March, 2013, Fu Ping said:
I certainly is on the attack by the Chinese at this point. The day after New York Time had a story broke on Chinese hacking on New York Time, I woke up with 2000 hate mail in my email. And I’m still on the attack by the Chinese. If you go on Amazon and look for Bend not Break Ping Fu, and you will see the full scale of the attack on me. They completely bombarded my book site, and if you saw the titles of five hundred comments, doesn't matter it is one-star or five-stars, they are all smear.
They are not just attack me, my family, my colleagues, but anyone who go voice something authentic get attacked. This is attack to democracy.
Katie Baker made the same linkage on The Daily Beast:
While the human flesh search phenomenon has helped expose injustice, it also has been trained on individuals to humiliate them publicly or to punish those who do not align with a strongly nationalist viewpoint. Indeed, recent hacking attacks on prominent American media outlets seem to have been aimed at publications deemed critical of China’s leaders. 
The Debunking:
The "Chinese hacker attack" story was a media sensation for a while, until the more recent disclosure of American government's own hacking activities severely dampened the enthusiasm. No matter what really happened at New York Times and other media sites, neither Fu Ping nor Katie Baker has produced any evidence that Chinese government sponsored hacker attack could be at work in the wave of public opinion against Fu Ping's book.

It is an attempt at guilt by association, pure and simple.

If Fu Ping truly believes that the 2000 hate mail she allegedly had received is an "attack to democracy," she should have turned them over to FBI for a thorough investigation already.

Broken Accusation: Internet Harrassment and Terrorism

The Accusation
A "smear campaign". This is Fu Ping's first response to the wide spread criticism on the factual accuracy of his memoir. In an interview with International Herald and Tribute in February, 2013, she told Didi Kirsten Tatlow that,
They smear my name, they try to get my daughter’s name on the Internet, they sent people to Shanghai to surround my family and to Nanjing to harass my neighbors.
A few weeks later, she raised the bar and claimed "this is Internet Terrorism."

The Debunking
None of the above accusations are true.

First of all, Fu Ping included her daughter's name in the "Acknowledgement" part of her book. It was also included in some of the earlier profiles on her success. For example, an article from her alma mater or an interview with WNYC.

The mystery of the Shanghai Villa where her family grew up has already been documented. Indeed, curious and diligent people have walked the streets in Shanghai tried to locate it but none have succeeded so far. It is therefore impossible to "surround" it.

Furthermore, members of Fu Ping's own family, including her mother, are all living abroad in USA. Her relatives in Shanghai have so far stayed outside of public controversy. Nobody has stepped up to validate her story. As a consequence, they are enjoying their privacy and could not have been "surrounded" by outsiders.

The only possibility is about her (former) neighbors in Nanjing. A couple of them did step up to provide information that refuted her story of her childhood. Unfortunately, most of these could not be substantiated either, for the lack of evidence and their choice of staying anonymous. However, there has been no complains about being harassed either.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

University of Illinois has no Record of Fu Ping's Director Position or Mosaic Involvement

In responding to an FOIA request, University of Illinois recently disclosed that they have no records that Fu Ping was ever a Director of Visualization at NCSA and that she initiated the Mosaic browser development. The former was included in the school's own award citation on Fu Ping. The latter was, of course, well known because of Fu Ping's numerous interviews on the subject.

Previously, the school has released employment records of Fu Ping at NCSA, which showed that she was only a programmer there when Mosaic was developed and a manager later.

From: University of Illinois FOIA Sent: Wednesday, August 07, 2013 3:01 PM
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: University of Illinois FOIA Subject: FOIA Response (13-357)
 August 7, 2013 [REDACTED] Re: FOIA 13-357  Dear Mr. xxxx: I am responding to your letter received in our office on July 31 under the Freedom of Information Act in which you request: "a copy of the following records (documentation in published, unpublished, machine-readable, and audiovisual forms, including correspondence such as printed letters as well as emails): 1.     Records, if any, that Ping Fu was a Director of Visualization of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications;2.     Records, if any, that Ping Fu initiated the NCSA Mosaic software project;3.     Records, if any, that Ping Fu managed the MCSA Mosaic software project;
4.     Records, if any, that Ping Fu’s work product led to Netscape; and5.     Records, if any, that Ping Fu’s work product led to Internet Explorer. The records, if any, responsive to this FOIA request should be located in Ping Fu’s research and project files at NCSA. These include research and project proposals, funding applications, financial and budget records, research data, reports, and correspondence."
 A search was conducted and no records pertaining to your request could be located.  You have a right, under the law, to seek a review of this response by the Public Access Counselor (PAC) in the Office of the Attorney General. The PAC may be reached by phone at 217-782-1396, by email to, or by postal mail at the Public Access Bureau, 500 S. 2nd Street, Springfield, Illinois 62706. You also have the right to seek judicial review under section 11 of this Act.  If you have questions for our office, please contact 217-333-6400. Sincerely,   Thomas P. HardyExecutive Director
and Chief Records Officer   cc:  filelegal counsel  

Document: University of Illinois' 2012 Award for Fu Ping

Fu Ping was a recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Department of Computer Science of University of Illinois in 2012. The biographic sketch on her included the following paragraph on their award web site:
Before starting Geomagic in 1997, Fu was the director of visualization at NCSA, the University of Illinois supercomputing center, where she supervised work on Mosaic, the world’s first practical web browser. Her team also developed new geometry algorithms that enabled the morphing special effects for the robot villain in the movie Terminator 2.
Upon a recent inquiry, however, the school indicated that they could not find any records pertaining Fu Ping being a director at NCSA or her involvement in the Mosaic project.

Previously, the school has released employment records of Fu Ping at NCSA, which showed that she was only a programmer there when Mosaic was developed and a manager later.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Document: UCSD Could not Confirm Fu Ping's TA Experience

Fu Ping's resume at University of Illinois claimed that she held Teaching Assistant positions from both University of New Mexico and University of California, San Diego when she studied there. This appears unlikely as she was an undergraduate student in those two schools.

UNM has already officially refuted her claim. UCSD, however, could not confirm or deny her claim as the school did not retain their employee files beyond 5 years.

Document: Fu Ping's Resume for her NSF Grant Applications (1999 version)

NSF has located more versions of Fu Ping's resume in her application file. Below is a version used around 1999, when she was the Chief Technical Officer of Raindrop Geomagic. For most part, this version is similar to that of 1997 with her work title and experience updated.

She also added an "Awards" section to her resume. Remarkably, however, this version of her resume lists her degree from Suzhou University as "MA" instead of "BA" as in the past. It might be a simple case of typo though.

Document: Fu Ping's Resume for her NSF Grant Application (1997 version)

NSF has located more versions of Fu Ping's resume in her application file. Besides the one submitted in early 1990s, below is a version used around 1997, when she was CEO & President of Raindrop Geomagic. This version no longer lists a Lecturer position as work experience or a translated children's book as publication, but still lists a BA from Suzhou University as her educational credential.

She also included a new "Senior Consultant" position at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for the academic year of 1995-1996.

For her work at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, she described it as "initiated and helped to design NCSA Mosaic internet browser software."