A Chinese Web site and a netizen were ordered by the People's Court in Beijing Thursday to compensate the plaintiff in China's first case on Renrou Search Engine that launched a "virtual lynching" by netizens who search for and reveal targets' private information.
The defendants, Daqi.com, Tianya.com and a netizen named Zhang Leyi, who established orionchris.cn, were sued by Wang Fei for posting his deceased wife's blog. His wife, Jiang Yan, killed herself after discovering her husband was having an affair.
The personal blog recorded the two-months preceding Jiang Yan's suicide. The blog revealed the real name and addresses of Wang Fei, which triggered many netizens to publicly harass Wang and his family
Daqi.com and Zhang Leyi were ordered to compensate Wang 3,000 yuan (about 441 U.S. dollars) and 5,000 yuan (about 735 U.S. dollars) respectively for emotional duress. Tianya.com was not ordered to pay damages because it tried to control the situation by deleting information related to Wang, the judge of the court said.
Wang said that he had lost his company job after netizens called his office to tell the story to his colleagues. He says they posted obscenities on the doors of his parents' apartment, and that the media reported his story in a "negative way."
"It has seriously hampered my normal life," Wang said.
Jiang Yan closed her blog two months before she died in December 2007. Prior to her death, she gave her password to an online friend. Her sister, Jiang Hong, got the password from the friend after she died and posted her sister's "Death Blog" on Tianya.com.
The blog spread from one Web site to another and triggered a series of debates over the cause of Jiang's death and the betrayal of her husband.
Netizens launched a massive search on Renrou (literally "human flesh") Search Engine and discovered Want's address and phone number. Vigilant netizens then "avenged" Wang's wife with personal attacks against Wang on the internet. Wang Fei said he was a victim of Renrou Search.
Zhang Leyi, a college mate of Jiang Yan, established orionchris.cn in January when he learned Jiang's death. This spurred a massive "Renrou Search" for more information about the couple's private life.
Daqi.com made the blog the focus of a special Web page, It revealed the real names of the couple and Wang's mistress, photos of Wang Fei and his new spouse and the curse words written on Wang's home on January 14 2008.
Wang confessed the love affair during the trial.
The judge said Chinese law of marriage prescribes that couples be faithful to each other. Wang's behavior not only broke the law but also offended the moral standard of the society -- as Jiang Yan's sorrow was evident in her blog.
But the behavior of Daqi.com invaded Wang's privacy by revealing his personal information. The Web page was an ordinary news report but the names of the involved parties and other private information should have been withheld, the judge said.
The case would be a standard for future virtual lynching cases, the judge said.
Renrou Search sometimes offers a service of justice for the society, said a netizen who identified herself as Ayawawa. She said she had joined the search to seek revenge against the man who betrayed his wife.
A friend of Wang's who identified himself as Jia said that the Renrou Search was "online violence."
The Renrou Search Engine sprouted in recent years, said Yule, head of the Renrou Search section of Mop.com. The Mop standardized its Renrou search to try to encourage netizens to do good things with the search -- for example, helping families find missing relatives, Yule said.
The Renrou Search did not promote "online violence", he said.