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China's 'human flesh search' hunts down teen vandal

Angry online mob identifies shameful defacer of 3,000 year-old Egyptian relic

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The full ire of China's army of online vigilantes known as the "human flesh search engine" was last week focused on a 15 year-old boy who vandalised a priceless 3,000 year-old Egyptian relic.

The Chinternet periodically gets in a right tizz when something or other is posted online and so it was when pictures of the now infamous graffiti appeared on Weibo last week.

Sparking user fury, it had been reposted 90,000 times in just 10 hours as the human flesh search engine sparked into action.

To be fair, the rather unoriginal graffiti - "Ding Jinhao was here" - gave them a pretty good lead. So it was less than 24 hrs after the pic first appeared online Ding's parents were shamed into contacting their local newspaper.

According to the Global Times they apologised to the Nanjing Modern Express that the errant middle school student hadn't been properly educated, and pleaded that society just give him another chance.

Although the maximum penalty in Egypt for graffiti-ing ancient relics is 6-12 months in the slammer or a fine of around $20,000, the incident does raise questions about the morality of an internet mob hunting down a minor.

The so-called human search engine, mobilising as it does the huge numbers of internet users in China, has been used to good effect in the past for exposing local government corruption and other rather more laudable aims.

However, it's only allowed to be effective as long as Beijing deems it useful and the authorities have no qualms about strangling online campaigns at birth if they are thought to be dangerous to the Party. ®

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