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.”