Human Flesh Searches are a phenomenon that began in China (“renrou sousuo yinging”) and involve online searches of people who have attracted others’ wrath, with the end goal of physically locating these individuals and punishing them for their misdeeds by getting them fired from their jobs, run out of town, or at the very least publicly shamed in their communities. Flesh searches aren’t unique to one particular culture – examples have cropped up in South Korea and the United States as well.
Let’s be clear about something: The deeds the targeted individuals committed are sometimes horrific (perhaps the most famous one is the stomping to death of a kitten via a stiletto heel, which was calmly recorded by a videographer), sometimes morally complicated (as when the wife of an unfaithful husband blamed him for her successful suicide), and sometimes plain antisocial and mean (as when a woman who found a cellphone in a taxi refused to return it to its owner).
But the emotional intensity behind the flesh searches and vigilante justice can be equally shocking. As this hplusmagazine article argues, “Let’s hope that human flesh search engines will have a collective intelligence that doesn’t too much resemble the witch burnings and mob lynchings of the past.”