Internet Crowdsourcing of Wenzhou Train Crash in China

This week, we’re profiling another intersection between the Internet and crowd-sourcing, relating to a recent train crash in China.

Last Saturday, a train on the high speed rail system crashed in Wenzhou, part of the  eastern Zhejian province. The crash came amid growing concerns about the safety of China’s rapidly expanding high speed rail system.

“High-speed rail’s excellent safety record in Europe and in Japan – not a single fatality has occurred in Japan since the technology was introduced in the 1960s – has led some experts to ask if China is moving too swiftly to build about 19,000 kilometres [12,000 miles] of track by 2020.”

The Chinese government and state media have remained relatively mum on the issues of safety. On Sunday, the central propaganda department issued a media directive urging state reporters to focus on a theme “in the face of great tragedy, there’s great love” rather than the death toll or questions about the safety. Chinageeks reported some of the government media instructions

“1) Use the deaths and casualty numbers reported by authorities; they are correct.

2) Do not report too frequently.

3) Report more moving stories, such as people donating blood or taxi drivers not taking fares from victims, etc.

4) Do not investigate the cause of the accident, use the information reported by authorities.”

The total official death toll has also been a source of controversy, as on Sunday, conflicting information came from the Railways Ministry and the state-run Xinhua. Right now, the official count stands at 39.

Due to the conflicting media views and the relative silence about who had been injured or killed, bloggers, microbloggers and Internet users took the count into their own hands. On Sunday, a spreadsheet began circling on Google Docs, publicized by Shanghaiist, ChinaGeeks, and the Google+ profile of Wen Yunchao (温云超), whose page has since been removed. The spreadsheet had a list of names, ages, and addresses from victims of the crash who have been confirmed dead by outside sources, and can be viewed here. The spreadsheet also has sheets that are a list of missing persons and injured.

Chinese Internet users edited the list as more information came in, compiling the list of names that the government was not releasing. The spreadsheet currently totals the number of victims at 40, one more than the official count. Each name has a link to news story, like this one, about victim number 3, Pan Yiheng.

We haven’t seen any reports about the Google spreadsheet becoming inaccessible, but we’ll continue to keep an eye on it. You can test the page and report here.

About the Author: Kendra Albert

Kendra Albert is an instructional fellow at the Cyberlaw Clinic.

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