Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

A Study of Cyber-Violence and Internet Service Providers' Liability: Lessons from China

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

A Study of Cyber-Violence and Internet Service Providers' Liability: Lessons from China

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Cyberspace has been likened by many to be the "wild West,"1 difficult to tame and unruly. Yet the great firewall of the Government of the People's Republic of China ["China"] has pinned down and filtered many freewheeling minds and spirits.2 When we are confronted with the Orwellian nightmare of the Big Brother overseeing us, many overlook the fact that we have become Little Brothers monitoring each others' behaviour. With the rise of blogs, discussion boards, and Youtube, we may become targets of false allegations or have our movements and gestures captured by modern technology at any moment to be broadcast on the Internet for millions to watch and to criticize. The use of the Internet by private citizens to achieve social shaming, monitoring and ostracism, or for private revenge is gaining prominence in China.

The year 2007 brought several Internet scandals in China touching on defamation and privacy. These included a Peking University female graduate who allegedly appeared nude for philanthropic purposes while she was studying abroad.3 This, however, turned out to be a blatant lie.4 In cases concerning privacy, the greater the truth, the greater the libel. Some Internet users were not content merely to expose perceived wrongful deeds, but they were determined to hunt down targeted individuals by triggering the "human flesh search engine."5 In Chinese, this is called renrou sousuo, literally meaning "the search for human flesh." The human flesh search engine mobilizes "thousands of individuals with a single aim: to dig out facts and expose the social delinquents to the baleful glare of publicity"6 in a cyber relay. This form of Internet witch hunting has exposed details of an unfaithful husband,7 and of a hospital pharmacist deriving pleasure from torturing a kitten.8 Recently in 2008, a twenty-one-year-old woman was hunted down for expressing scornful remarks to victims of the Sichuan earthquake.9

In many cases, renrou sousuo tears apart the lives of the individuals concerned. For instance, the young woman who showed callous disregard for earthquake victims was detained by police,10 and both the unfaithful husband and the kitten-torturer were dismissed by their employers.11 These recent events show that malicious speech and the Internet witch-hunt have escalated into a form of cyber violence, with the targeted individuals painfully feeling the adverse impact in real life. Yet, these individuals have little legal recourse to protect their reputation and privacy. Many have little money to wage a legal battle, but perhaps even more troubling, they do not know whom to sue, especially when Internet postings are mostly anonymous. Compounding this difficulty, the defamer or the privacy violator may not be a single person. Intrusion is often done collectively in a series of anonymous Internet postings by numerous "netizens." Some victims of defamation or privacy invasion have tried to sue the Internet service providers (ISPs), but this has proven to be an uphill battle.12 Though the Internet may have given "the ultimate in free speech by giving voice to millions,"13 it has also provided a means to disseminate false speech and intrude on people's privacy.

Thus, this article argues that an effective way to solve the current problem is to adopt a system of notice and take down on Internet service providers for defamation and privacy violations.14 This article begins with Part II, a discussion of the current legal position in China. Part III critically examines China's current law and demonstrates its inadequacies for policing defamation and privacy violations. Part IV compares the regimes of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States and argues that an effective approach requires that ISPs remove offending content upon receipt of actual notice. Such a system of notice and take down balances the right to free speech on the one hand and reputation and privacy on the other without resorting to the draconian intervention of criminal law. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.