By Kim Rahn
The government is moving to tighten monitoring of social network services (SNS) and smartphone apps by establishing a special team under the nation’s media watchdog agency.
The move comes amid growing concerns about comments and rumors critical of various government policies. Administration officials and politicians from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) have demanded that postings and messages on Twitter and other online websites should be come under tighter control to block “malicious” rumors from spreading online.
The plan, however, is drawing a fierce backlash from micro-blog users and civic groups, which claim SNS is a tool for private exchange and regulating it will restrict freedom of communication and expression.
The Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) said Thursday that it plans to set up a new media review office in its reorganization plan.
“The reorganization aims to boost efficiency and better cope with a rapidly changing media environment. Several departments have monitored SNS and apps, but we are now having a separate, exclusive team for the new media,” an official of the commission said.
She said the new team will filter harmful or illegal content on SNS, such as Twitter, Facebook and Me2day, or apps registered at Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market. “Harmful or illegal content includes pornography, gambling, drug abuse, false information spreading, libel, and comments that violate the National Security Law or instigating crime,” she said.
On such comments or photos on SNS, the watchdog will first recommend the users to remove them from their micro-blogs voluntarily. If they don’t cooperate, the commission will block the users’ SNS accounts.
“With services using domestic servers, such as Cyworld, we will ask the operators to remove the problematic postings. But those using foreign servers, like Twitter, we can’t, so we just block the users’ accounts. Now we’ll advise such users to remove them voluntarily before forcibly blocking their accounts,” she said.
Restricting freedom of expression
Suspicions are that the government seeks to tighten regulation on anti-government apps and SNS comments ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections next year, especially targeting the popular podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda,” (I’m a petty trickster) which ridicules President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling GNP.
The commission said the establishment of the new team has no political purpose.
“SNS and apps are information, not broadcasting, so we don’t review the ‘objectivity’ or ‘fairness’ of the content. Political content, such as pre-electioneering or campaigns for specific candidates, are subject to the National Election Commission’s monitoring,” she said.
But civic groups and SNS users claim the establishment of the separate team indicates tighter regulations and control on freedom of expression and communication.
The Center for Media Responsibility and Human Rights, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the National Union of Media Workers are up in arms against the government move.
“The plan is an unreasonable idea to regulate SNS, which is a tool for personal intercourse. Mobile apps also have a very limited ripple effect. The new team is looking to restrict people’s freedom of expression for political purposes,” they said in a written opinion to the commission.
Novelist Lee Oi-soo, a popular tweeter with over 1 million followers, said on his account, “Far from freedom of speech. The government has cut out people’s tongues, pulled out their eyes, cut off their noses and now plans to cut their throats.”
An Internet user, Kaucho, said, “During the Park Chung-hee regime, people were arrested for criticizing the government during talks with friends over a drink. The regime controlled conversation between individuals at private drinking sessions. This was dictatorship. SNS is a conversation channel between individuals. Controlling such private conversation is no different from regulations under the Park administration.”
정부가 방송통신심의위원회에 소셜네트워크서비스 (SNS)와 앱 심의를 전담하는 뉴미디어 부서를 설치해 심의를 강화할 계획이다.
이는 정부 정책에 반대하는 트위터나 온라인 메시지들이 많이 올라오는 가운데 악의적인 루머들을 막아야 한다는 정부와 여당의 주장을 반영한 것이다. 그러나 SNS이용자들과 시민단체들은 SNS가 사적 교류의 공간이며 심의는 통신과 표현의 자유를 제한할 것이라고 주장하고 있다.
위원회 관계자는 “직제개편은 효율성을 높이고 빠르게 변화하는 미디어 환경에 잘 대처하기 위한 것이다. 몇몇 부서들이 나눠서 SNS와 앱을 심의해 왔는데 새로 전담할 별도의 부서를 만드는 것이다”라고 말했다.
이 전담부서는 트위터나, 페이스북, 미투데이 같은 SNS와 앱의 유해정보나 불법 정보를 심의할 것이다. 그런 정보들에 대해 위원회는 일단 사용자에게 자진 삭제를 권고하고, 이를 따르지 않을 경우 사용자의 접속을 차단할 계획이다.
이에 대해 정부가 내년 선거들을 앞두고 정부에 비판적인 SNS내용들, 특히나 “나는 꼼수다”를 겨냥한 조치가 아니냐는 의혹이 일고 있다. 그러나 위원회 관계자는 정치적인 의도는 없다며 “SNS는 방송이 아니라 정보이기 때문에, 공정성이나 객관성은 심의 대상이 아니다. 사전선거운동이나 특정후보 지지 같은 정치적 내용은 중앙선거관리위원회의 일이다”라고 말했다.
그러나 시민단체와 SNS 사용자들은 전담부서를 둔다는 것을 표현의 자유를 제재하겠다는 뜻으로 받아들이고 있다.