Serial Killers, Human Flesh Search Engines and 4Chan The Avengers

September 3, 2010

Dissecting The Internet’s Lynching Culture

Warning: highly opinionated and may be offensive to most readers.

I watch a lot of videos online. Internet memes are my guilty pleasure. I’m addicted to 4chan even though I don’t completely understand how to use it. I love dogs, especially my bichon.

I’m also constantly surprised by people’s stupidity.

I honestly think people are generally quite intelligent. It may be because I think everyone I’m in regular contact with is really bloody smart. Am I in a bubble filled with the top X percent? Am I the stupid one?

I don’t know, but I can’t wrap my mind around people in general sometimes. Warnings on hot coffee cups? Farmville is valued at $4 billion? People still fall for the Nigerian phishing scheme? and I have over 3,000 followers?!?… yeah, there’s something wrong with the world.

The Difference

Here’s the thing: There’s a vast difference between stupid and crazy… and I don’t mean crazy as in “gurrl you is crazayyy!” I mean crazy as in “how are you not locked up in a place with padded walls?” In the past couple of weeks, there are two distinct videos that went viral of people who fall into the latter category of crazy.

Figure 1: Cat Lady

The first one was the cat lady.  You watch as this 40-something-year-old, normal looking woman (Later identified as church-goer Mary Bale) is captured on CCTV video walking by a friendly cat on a fence. She leans over, pets it. It purrs and she looks around the neighborhood to see if anyone is looking. Then, picks up the friendly, loving cat and throws it into the garbage bin.

The worst part is when initially confronted about it, she says “I don’t know what the fuss is about. It’s just a cat.”

mary bale tossing the cat into the bin

Figure 2: Puppy Thrower

In the next instance, Bosnian girl who looks to be about 14 years-old (and later identified as Katja Puschnik) is video tapped (by whom is presumed to be her brother), cheerily tossing tiny puppies from a plastic bucket into a quick-moving lake. She laughs as she tosses the helpless creatures to their death. It is quite possibly the most horrible thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

bosnian teen girl cheerily tossing puppies to their deaths

Serial killers by nature? I’m no psychologist, but getting joy out of killing helpless animals screams sociopathic tendencies to me.

4Chan The Avengers

In both cases, 4chan’s /b/ forum users are credited with identifying the crazies. I know 4chan gets a lot of flack about its anonymous and offensive behavior. However, those crafty users are also credited as being a meme-machine, as their no-holds-barred approach to communication is a breeding ground for creativity. I love them but I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of their wrath.

When their collective powers come together, they get stuff done in a way some criticize as being a modern-day witch hunt. Gawker and 11-year-old Jessi Slaughter have both been on the receiving ends of this and it was not pretty.

Personally, I find such behavior utterly fascinating — how people come together online and use collaborative tools and communication outlets to have such an impact on society… It blows my mind. Interestingly enough, this sort of online behavior is quite popular all over the world (yes, this happens outside of 4chan) and the Chinese have dubbed this online witch hunt sensation “The human-flesh search engine.”

For those of us in China, we might better know crowdsourcing as the Human Flesh Search Engine, the increasingly frequent phenomenon of online crowds gathering via China’s bulletin board systems, chat rooms, and instant messaging to collaborate on a common task…

…We profiled several such instances in our book, such as the Kitten Killer of Hangzhou and the infamous Chinabounder blog, both of which involved an intensive human-assisted search that sometimes bordered on a lynch-mob mentality.  — China Supertrends

What are your thoughts on the people in these videos? What are your thoughts on the Human Flesh Search Engine sensation? What are your thoughts on online lynching and witch hunts? How do these sensations play into the science of viral? I would love to hear your opinions, so leave a comment below.

Want To Lurk Moar?

Liz Hoggard On Mary Bale

Wikipedia On The Human Flesh Search Engines

New York times On The Human Flesh Search Engine

4 Responses to “Serial Killers, Human Flesh Search Engines and 4Chan The Avengers”

  1. Mark Says:

    The big question is: should I leave 10 bogus responses in order to make a Double Gets? :-P

  2. Rick Says:

    My question is, how long until these online lynch mobs spur a IRL lynch mob?

    I don’t mean that 4chan users are going to band together for a good ol’ fashioned hanging – but what if mainstream news picks this stuff up, and people equally crazy folks who are local to the offender actually mob together?

    But on another note, as the world got larger and cities became metropolises policing became the job of the police alone. Seems like the internet is changing this; I just worry how far it could go. Especially since, as you say, there are some real crazies out there!


  3. Mark – omg you kill me :)

    Rick – See, thats the issue. These human flesh search engines identify these crazies better and more efficiently than police.

    In all cases, however, these online lynch mobs found these people and digitally harassed them without end — death threats and all. In some cases, even these people’s friends, family and employers were also digitally attacked.

    Mary Bale for example had to go into police protection because, once the lynch mobs identified her and let the world know, people started harassing her IRL. The bank she works at needed to get extra security for when she was there.

    … but that’s people for you. If police and journalists identified someone as the main suspect in a serial killer case, do you not think people living in that suspect’s neighborhood would form a lynch mob? I can already hear the cries of “not in my neighborhood” and “think about the children.”

    The difference is I think people are more cruel online because people feel a sense of disconnection… or safety… anonymity… when dealing in the online world.

    Do you think people would actually say in-person and publicly “lets kill the dog tosser by throwing her in a river!” and everyone around would cheer in approval? Not quite. However, if you create a group on facebook saying that, thousands of people will proudly join and trash talk her along the wall.


  4. [...] take it a step further and organize lynch mobs and harass them at work and home — you know, 4Chan avengers style until they apologized. Ridiculous? I thought so [...]


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