By Cho Jin-seo
A debate has flared up on the legitimacy of Internet censorship as portal sites began to remove sensitive articles from their sites without the agreement of posters and users.
Major portals such as Naver and Daum have been following the government's advice to take introduce a ``temporary measure,'' which is to shut down blogs or community sites or to remove postings whenever there is a request from the person involved. The policy sparked fierce protests from liberals who say they are defending the freedom of speech _ at least in cyber space.
Naver, the dominant Web portal site, said that it was inevitable to institute the policy since current laws focused on printed media cannot properly deal with online libel cases, which are ephemeral in their nature.
``In an ideal world, we could implement total freedom of speech on the Web,'' said Han Jong-ho, director of policy at Naver. ``Unfortunately, there are as many bad people in the world as there are good people. And we cannot let them ruin our service. The `temporary measure' is the least worst way we can think of.''
Last month, the management of the E-Land retailing chain asked Naver and Daum to remove postings written by workers who were members of its union. The two portals did as requested by the company, only to fuel the rage of the workers concerned.
Naver said that it is still blocking the postings in order to keep cyber space clean from further arguments and pandemonium.
``It's just like an amusement park. People won't come if there are thieves and bums hiding in the park and the ground is dotted with animal dung. We want to make our service a safe place where people can feel secure and have fun,'' Han said.
It was only after 2005 that portals began to think seriously about libel and slander on the Web, after a man filed a lawsuit against them.
The story began as a classic tragedy. A girl living in Busan fell in love with a young man in 2004. She became pregnant a year later but the boyfriend finished with her. Heartbroken, she killed herself by swallowing 90 sleeping pills, leaving her family in despair.
The girl's mother wrote the whole story (from her perspective) on her daughter's Cyworld mini-homepage. The story rapidly spread via Internet portals to hundreds of other blogs and community sites. Internet users googled the man and revealed his name, occupation and phone number on the Web.
The man, with the surname Kim, claimed that he was the victim of a witch-hunt, and said he lost his job because of the bad publicity. But instead of suing individual Internet users, he filed a lawsuit against the four major Internet portal sites _ Naver, Daum, Yahoo and Nate _ for neglecting their duty to prevent defamation.
Kim won the case in May, and the portals were ordered to pay him up to five million won each. Though thefirms have appealed the case to the Supreme Court, they adopted the censorship policy on online postings, which has now brought a backlash from people such as the E-Land union members.