In effect, Human Flesh Search Engines tap social media to activate digital mobs against the targets. The anonymity offered by the internet emboldens such vigilante attackers to get very offensive and personal. Often, their appetites are not whetted by mere exposes. Bomb attacks and physical violence intended to cause bodily harm are not unheard of. In the case of the crowdsourced vigilante attacks against British animal testing firm Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), hate mail, delivery of unwanted sex toys, listing of executives' wives and mothers' phone numbers in swinger magazines, mailing of letters to executives' neighbours, falsely charging the former to be convicted paedophiles, etc. went on unabated even as the cars of affiliate company officials were bombed. The woman responsible for mass emailing a particularly offensive threat to company officials later claimed to be a "harmless animal lover" once she was arrested, says the book. So while Human Flesh Search Engines tap the internet to get their work done through shaming and identity exposes, the danger they pose is often very raw, and very physical.
Their success is primarily due to their ability to farm out work to a large number of people by tapping the social media networks. Doxing is the term used to refer to the process by which vigilantes unearth the real identity of anonymous individuals.
Their destructive capacity can be hijacked by governments too. Torrenzano and Davis talk about the Chinese government letting loose the collective power of hired bloggers on critics to isolate and punish them. I found it similar to the NSA hiring hackers in the US. We won't venture to answer the question of who inspired whom!
Human Flesh Search Engines can easily turn on its own creators. Zhu, the Chinese netizen who outed the kitten killer, later became the target of a vigilante mob which accused him of cashing in on the tragedy when he tried to auction off websites for an earthquake charitable relief. He eventually lost his job after being bombarded at home and office with hate phone calls.
So how does one face up to Human Flesh Search Engines? Torrenzano and Davis advocate ethical operating principles and proclaiming good deeds from the rooftops as the best line of defence against such attacks. They stress on the importance of building a reputational cushion through good deeds to withstand any attacks. In this way, though it still remains intimidating to face up to a mob, you get a "crowd of your own to stand behind you".