Friday, July 01, 2005

Riding the wave of 'cyber terror' articles

The 2005 'Dog Poop Girl' incident

Part 1: Internet Witchhunts and Conflict Resolution
Part 2: Riding the wave of 'cyber terror' articles
Part 3: 'Real Names' in Korean Cyberspace
Part 4: Portals and the Cyber Terror blame game
Part 5: Dog 'Poop' Girl Redux

Part 2: Riding the wave of 'cyber terror' articles

Waves of 'posting frenzy' occur regularly in Korean cyberspace; for example, during the U.S. hate-a-thon in 2002, the 'texting frenzy' that got Roh Moo-hyun elected, during his impeachment and Kim Sun-il's murder, and other 'big' events. These also occur in response to 'smaller' events, however, like the Miryang rape case, English Spectrum-Gate, the celebrity X-file, Takeshima Day, and, of course, the 'Dog Dung Girl', who I wrote about here (consider that Part 1 of this post).

For some reason, the dog dung girl was the straw that broke the camel's back, and the Korean media reported the event and began to comment on 'Internet Witchhunts', in the words of the first article in English in the Joongang Ilbo on June 7. Some of the larger 'waves' described above had been guided in part by the media; suddenly, after the dog dung girl, we've been thoroughly saturated with 'Cyber Terror' articles in the Korean media (I'm looking at the English language articles, of course).

First to follow the dog dung girl was the sad story of Twist Kim, (who I've mentioned here) which the Donga Ilbo reported on June 16. In it, Kim said,
“The first problem is that there are such unscrupulous people who do terrible things that hurt others’ lives so much. But another problem is that the government and legal authorities do nothing about cyber terrorism, citing ambiguity of the law. I ask the authorities to take active action to protect those who suffer because of cyber terrorism.”
Now, the nice thing about the Donga Ilbo (perhaps the sole redeeming feature on its English site) is that you can just click to read the same article in Korean. In case you were wondering, the Korean word is indeed "Cyber Terror" (사이버 테러). This was the first article to use the word (in English), and thus a week of Cyber Terror articles followed. That same day, the Chosun Ilbo posted an editorial mentioning 'Twist Kim' titled "We Need Redress Against Online Terror":
Most cyber terror victims have no alternative but to put up with the abuse. In extreme cases, victims lose their jobs and social life and attempt suicide. Cyber violence has long crossed the danger level, to the point where some are calling for the use of only real names online, a measure that could threaten many of the Internet’s benefits.

Judicial authorities must ensure that the victims of cyber terror have some sort of redress, instead of resorting to the excuse that the law is ambiguous. The fundamental solution depends on the good sense of Internet users. Schools, homes and society at large must teach and practice online ethics.
A Joongang Ilbo article titled "'Cyber terror’ prompts call for end to online anonymity" offered a solution:
Similar cases of defamation or harrassment ― including cases in which harrassment has spilled over into the “offline” world, as victims of smear attacks find their telephone numbers or workplace addresses distributed online ― have led the Ministry of Information and Communication to argue that “netizens” should have to use their real names.

“With the sharp growth in recent cyber terror attacks, a need for using real names on the Internet is growing,” Minister of Information and Communication Chin Dae-je said yesterday.
An op-ed article in the Donga Ilbo the next day, entitled 'Twist kim's tears' (after writing a full article on him the day before) took aim at cyber terror:

Normal people are apt to turn into "techno rioters," sure of their anonymity within a group and in cyberspace. Verbal attacks become increasingly abusive, and the Internet becomes an ugly battlefield. Whether a person is guilty or not, once online attacks start, the hostility amplifies and people attack indiscriminately. This psychology is shown most distinctly in cyber space.

The legal sector should not sit idly, hiding behind ambiguous legislations. Netizens should change their ways of thinking; they should take voluntary action, such as Internet moral conduct movements, to prevent further damage.
That day, the Hankyoreh also posted an editorial called 'Netizens Need 'Ethical Guidelines''
At this point it would seem necessary to declare an all-out war on this new form of violence in the digital age. There are increasing calls for analysis of the types of cyber violence and measures that would assist people seeking help, and for better organization of the related legislation that is currently too vague. However, over-dependency on legal rules could harm internet debate and discussion, which is an important part of Korea's mature civil society. That is why it is more important that civil society engage in self-regulation to effectively fight cyber violence, instead of having that effort led by the government.
Two days later on June 19, the Korea Times posted an opinion column by a Korean high school teacher entitled 'Kangaroo Court on the Net'
The importance of netiquette and the seriousness of the side effects of Internet violence in Korea cannot be exaggerated. We should be proud of Korea’s dominance in information technology but freedom of the press on the Internet must be regulated to improve Korea's IT culture.
The next day saw a broad-ranging article on many aspects of Korean internet culture (and how foreigners often don't fit into it) titled 'Foreigners Excluded From Korean Sites':
"The cyber terror and Twist Kim cases showcase how the Internet can ruin a person’s life. Before boasting we are the Internet powerhouse, we should turn our attention to its dark side first," Korea University professor Kwon Jung-hye said.
Perhaps a pattern is starting to become obvious. All of these articles or editorials have called upon netizens to learn some manners, and all but one have called for legislative action by the government. The sole exception was, of course, the Hankyoreh's editorial; I'm certain many readers who might normally disagree with the Hankyoreh's stances will find themselves in agreement with its opinion that hemming in cyberspace with too much legislation is a bad idea. Looking over these editorials, however, makes it clear that this seems to be a minority view in the Korean press.

Two days later, on June 22, the Joongang Ilbo posted an article titled 'Courts get tougher on online slander':
With Internet-based harassment becoming more common, courts have been handing down sterner sentences for online threats and defamations of character. In Seoul Southern District Court yesterday, a 23-year-old man, identified by his family name, Yun, was sentenced to eight months in jail for slandering and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

"Normally, offline libel cases result in light punishments, such as suspended sentences or fines," said one court official. "But cyber defamation tends to cause serious damage to a victim's reputation. Since such cases have dramatically increased recently, punishments have gotten heavier."

A help center for victims of online harassment said it received 2,285 calls for help in 2004, compared to 278 in 2001. About 70 to 80 percent of the calls were about online defamation.
That seems like a lot of calls for help, doesn't it? I wonder how Korea's online harrassment compares with other countries'. At any rate, now that we know the courts are stepping up efforts to combat this menace, that should be about it for this wave of Cyber Terror stories, right?

I'm afraid not. From today's Joongang Ilbo, we find an article titled 'Government seeks to bar Web aliases'
Government officials said yesterday that they have started looking at ways to keep Internet users from hiding behind aliases when posting inflammatory messages on Web sites.

The Ministry of Information and Communication said it will meet with officials and related experts today to figure out how to force Internet users to reveal their true identities when posting on bulletin boards, such as by entering their national identification number.
So the government has decided to turn its attention to the darker side of Korean internet culture (I love that word 'force'). Of course, if the idea of more government regulation and the banning of aliases seems far fetched, it's best to remember what the government did in order to stop Koreans from watching the Kim Sun-il video last summer.

The article ends with the opinion of a law professor:
"The Internet has been used as a place where the minority can express their opinions against the majority," he said. "If people have to write under their real names, they would neither offer sound social criticism nor uncover unfair treatment in society."
In an article titled Power of Netizens posted at the Donga Ilbo yesturday, polls looking at how netizens have influenced the actions of the government and other public figures (done without considering other possible influences on government decisions, and without thinking about what kind of demographic these netizens represent), this statement was made:
“Perhaps not always, but the increasing influence of netizens implies the emergence of new opinion leaders,” said Jang Deok-jin, a social science professor at Seoul National University, and noted, “Nobody will be able to make decisions easily without the consent of these cybercitizens in the future.”
But if these cybercitizens have to identify themselves at every turn, will they be so vocal? Its hard to know what will come of this, but considering the fact that many sites already require people to register using their citizen numbers, and the actions the Korean government took last summer, I don't have high hopes. I don't think it's a bad thing at all that this discussion of internet harrassment has been brought into the open - it's obviously become a widespread social problem. I don't think more regulation is the answer, however, and the ban on aliases will likely make Korean cyberspace even less accessible for foreigners, which goes against all the blathering on about globalization and embracing the future. I imagine Korea's netizens, along with civic groups, will have some opinions to express on all of this over the next few days. How much those opinions will have been influenced by all this 'cyber terror' coverage, only time will tell.

Hat tip to Marmot guest bloggers Robert and Shelton.


Scott said...

I found this entry while doing reesearch to flesh out the Wikipedia article on "Dog Poop Girl". Your links to editorials were very helpful.

Snooper said...

I need some materials about cyber terror and comments about the policy that forces netizens to use their real names. Thanks!