Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Flesh Search Engine vs. Due Process

Being and animal lover, and just an all around decent human being, I found myself cheering as I read the China’s Cyberposse and the Evil Cat Lady articles. Here, justice was done, and better than that, we policed ourselves – no police, no FBI, no government interference, just a few concerned citizens using some of their skills and “outing” a person in public for their wicked deeds. What could possibly be wrong with that?

After all, these cases were pretty cut and dry, we had photographic evidence, we saw a crime being committed, real simple. But is it always just that simple? Our readings this week also highlights the potential dangers to this form of “outing” as well, illustrated by the story of the Chinese official in the restaurant. Did he do something wrong? Actually, we don’t know; all we truly have is a short one-sided video clip, and a partial conversation. Truth be told, the crime that angered the Flesh Search Engine mob, and the one for which he was convicted in their eyes, was the crime of arrogance. The justice exacted on this man at the hands of this mob had nothing to do with any crime being committed, but rather a distaste of the man’s character.

Could he have been trying to molest that girl? Could he be corrupt? Sure, he could be all this and more; however, the fact remains that none of that was ever proven. Lacking any proof, I find it hard to justify what was done to this man.

What I also find interesting is that this modern way of “outing” the bad guys in pubic has significant historical roots. The Greeks called it ostracism, and it was in interesting perversion of the judicial system of due process. In most court cases you name the person, the crime, then you weigh the evidence. Ostracism is unique in that 1) Somebody is automatically guilty, 2) The person is named (by vote, not evidence), and 3) When the voting is done, that’s it no appeal. The person was then removed from society, no judge, no trial, and no appeal. Can we really call this type of system justice, even if we get the “bad guys”?

I think in my life how many times I’ve either walked in on a partial conversation, or saw something I was certain of, which caused me to make a judgment about a situation or a person. Only to find out later that I had it all wrong.

The Flesh Search Engine is a large mass, once that mass gets moving in a certain direction; it’s awfully hard to stop. As appealing as vigilante justice or ostracism handed down by the Flesh mob may be, the danger that lurks at it heart is the lack of due process and its “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy, and that is not justice.


  1. I agree, Mark, that the flesh search engine is not a good thing. It can be used for good and be a positive thing but its potential for harm and abuse is just too great for me to overlook.

  2. Thanks for the comment, as much as I found myself liking that justice in some manner was being served, I couldn't shake the idea how this well meaning process could also be abused by the wrong people. Better 100 guilty go unpunished, than 1 innocent man should suffer at the hands of the Flesh Search Engine.