Today’s post comes from David Alan Grier, crowdsourcing expert and author of Crowdsourcing for Dummies. He tackles the question of whether we should trust crowdsourced information. Check out his previous post for Owler.
Apparently, crowdsourcing is not only a way of building flexible organizations; it is also a threat to the state. When you assemble a group of people and give them new functions, new positions, new status, you may be construed as threatening the power of the state, at least according to the People’s Supreme Court of China. Last October, it attempted to restrict one form of crowdsourcing in the name of protecting personal privacy. However, it may ultimately have illustrated how crowdsourcing creates ways of using personal skill and personal authority.
On October 10, the court attempted to restrict a form of crowdsourcing with the name of Human Flesh Search, which is a literal translation of the Chinese term for this activity, 人肉搜索. Human Flesh Search has been a way of using the network to find information about people or events. It has been used for such activities such as identifying supporters of the government during the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, to validate a photo of a rare Chinese tiger in 2007, and to find the people responsible for inflated pricing of haircuts in Zhengzhou, Henan.
The Chinese government has been long concerned about the ability of Human Flesh Search to create organizations that are independent of official authority. Scholars of the phenomena have noted this aspect of Human Flesh Search and have compared it to the activity of doxing in the West or even vigilantism. It generally operates when an individual posts a request for information or help on a social web site. First, others will circulate that request on social media and then people will start to form a human organization or task force to search outside of the web.
In presenting their ruling, the court seemed to be especially concerned about how Human Flesh Search gave people new opportunities to utilize their personal status. According to the Shanghai Daily, a spokesman for the court stated that celebrities should not use their public notoriety in Human Flesh Search Activities. “If you are a verified celebrity,” he said, “your obligations when re-posting online information are greater than those of the general public.”
Human Flesh Search is probably the most positive form of crowdsourcing and perhaps the Peoples Supreme Court has a right to be concerned about it. However, their concern reminds us that crowdsourcing is a means of organizing work outside of traditional institutions, of dividing tasks and building new organizations that utilize the skills and the status of individuals.David Alan Grier firstname.lastname@example.org David Alan Grier is the author of When Computers Where Human and Crowdsourcing for Dummies The Shanghai Daily article on Human Flesh Search can be found at: http://www.shanghaidaily.com/national/Rules-to-protect-personal-rights-online/shdaily.shtml A scholarly study of the phenomena can be found on the IEEE Electronic Library with the DOI: 10.1109/MC.2010.216