A brief overview of ‘human flesh search’ (doxing) in China

With the rapid development of the Internet, more and more people are getting information and enjoying services. In addition to browsing information, search engines have become one of the most frequently used ways to use the Internet. In the face of the massive amount of data on the Internet, to target and purposeful search for the information they need, the search engine is undoubtedly one of the preferred methods of most Internet users. However, as people demand more accurate data, the search mechanism that only obtains results through automatic machine algorithms can no longer meet some people’s needs. Therefore, a new search mechanism was born, namely “human flesh search.”

The origin of ‘human flesh search’

In the first, this term was originated from an online forum called Mop (猫扑) in 2001. There is a specific page called ‘human flesh search .’ It encourages users and netizens to ask each other questions. Then they can get a more accurate and helpful answer contrary to computer-generated. At that time, most ‘human flesh search’ is about entertainment gossips. But one thing happened that changed that. In 2001 a netizen claimed a beautiful woman as his girlfriend in Mop and posted a photo later identified by the netizen as the woman. Other netizens identified the woman’s real identity and posted most of her personal information was. This incident can be seen as the origin of ‘human flesh search.’ After that, as described in Wikipedia, this term’s definition has changed, ‘evolving from not just a search by humans, but also a search of humans.’


  • The participation of human

This can be seen from its name. It is also the most significant difference between the traditional search engine. The search result is no longer the result of the traditional search engine based on keywords but the answer provided by a specific person based on their own experience. Therefore, this answer is more relevant and more accurate.

  • Use all the power available

The main character of the ‘human flesh search,’ ‘human,’ can use all the power available in searching for answers, using all the means available. For example, if we know a name, we can search it through a search engine directly. In addition to these publicly available online sources, corporate or government leaked databases are also good sources of information.

Extension during the pandemic

In this great pandemic, this human flesh search is getting more and more intense. In China, the local government is susceptible to new COVID-19 cases as it is relative to the evaluation of their superiors and the stability of their positions. So once they find a few new cases under their administration, they will publish an official notice about the recent track of the infected one, namely where and when they went, to confirm whether someone has close contact with them. In general, it is good to know that information to help us with self-diagnosis and self-examination. But in China, the situation is worse than that. Due to the lack of attention to privacy, sometimes the official notice reveals too much personal information about the infected person, even revealing their exact door number, which indicates ‘human flesh search’ can easily extend from the network to reality. Moreover, the searcher also uses the searched email addresses and phone numbers to harass, intimidate, and even pursue the searched person to their workplace, which seriously affects their everyday lives and friends and relatives. Therefore, the “human flesh search” can quickly get out of control and evolve into uncertain results.

Based on the information provided by the official notice, the netizens who live in the same city with patients will human flesh search those patients and make them available to the public due to their fear of the COVID-19. Under the gaze of the people, these infected people are under enormous pressure and cyberbully. Once the searched information is published in cyberspace, it is very likely to be out of control. Because many “human flesh searches” are based on a sense of justice, the target of the search is often seen as a moral offender. Infection with the coronavirus became a sin in their eyes, so they are doing something right to protect other people from coronavirus infection.