By Lee Hyo-sik
The government is moving to strengthen its online censorship by allowing messages deemed to contain false information to be deleted without a review process during a national emergency, such as the sinking of the frigate Cheonan and North Korea’s artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island.
Government officials say it is essential to immediately stop unfounded rumors from spreading on the Internet and to prevent possible social unrest or other “unnecessary” side effects.
However, civic groups argue that the government is seeking additional ammunition to gag those who are critical of policies of the Lee Myung-bak administration in cyberspace.
An official at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) said Tuesday that it is drawing up a manual, which includes measures to require web portals to beef up the monitoring of comments posted on blogs, Internet cafes and other sites in case of a national emergency.
“We will also make it possible for messages containing bogus information to be removed immediately without a review process. These steps will only be taken in a state of emergency,” the official said.
Following the sinking of the naval ship Cheonan on March 26 and the North’s shelling on Nov. 23, tens of thousands of messages were uploaded on Internet cafes, blogs and other sites operated by web portals, some of which included false data and unfounded rumors.
When requested by the police and other government bodies, the commission sets up a review committee that deliberates whether online messages contain false information or not. The committee ruled a number of comments were fabricated and ordered them to be deleted.
“For instance, a man in his 20s spread false rumors by sending cell phone text messages that the government would mobilize reserve forces in the wake of North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island. It caused grave social unrest. To cope with something like this in a timely manner, we will make it possible for misleading messages to be erased immediately,” the official stressed.
However, civic groups are protesting the move, saying the government is trying to restrict the freedom of expression among those disapproving of the Lee administration’s policies. “There is no clear and objective standard for which comments contain incorrect information and which ones don’t. It means the government will be able to do whatever it wants to at its discretion, strengthening state censorship in cyberspace,” a Seoul-based civic group member said.