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. 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.
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. 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.