By Kim Jae-won
A recent article in The New York Times focused on "quirky" rules that govern online protocol in Korea. The reporter who wrote the piece considers these to be inappropriate for a supposedly vibrant democracy that is also touted as being the most wired country on earth.
Admittedly, the restrictions may hamper creativity but they also need to be used in a way that protects people's basic right to privacy.
There are three recent cases that amounted to invasion of privacy and, by extension, caused damage to an individual's reputation.
These cases captured the attention of the media because the victims were celebrities targeted by what can only be seen as character assassins and proponents of rumor-mongering.
The victims decided to take legal action after a number of rumors spread quickly around the Internet and social networking services, so quickly that they were taken as fact by the public.
Ironically, they were "lucky" considering that there are many cases which are just as serious but are not given attention, thereby leaving the victims helpless.
KBS TV show hostess, 42 year old Hwang Soo-kyung, became the latest victim of a baseless rumor, which stated that she cheated on her prosecutor husband and would soon divorce.
The rumor was specific enough to mention the name of a Seoul National University professor as her paramour. Hwang is said to be suffering from a severe case of stress.
This was reported by cable TV Chosun and spread through a blog and social network services.
Seoul Central District Court issued arrest warrants for two reporters. A complaint was also filed against the cable channel.
Last month, IU, a popular 20-year-old singer, became the target of cyber defamation because a man spread a rumor that she was getting married with a member of a boy band and was keeping her pregnancy a secret. IU's agency filed a complaint with the police which arrested the man and got a confession from him.
IU asked for leniency at the last minute. The man was slapped with 200 hours of community service.
Singer Baek Ji-young was also victimized by vicious attacks on the Internet regarding her recent miscarriage. The 37-year-old filed a complaint with the police in August against multiple Internet users who ridiculed her over the loss of an unborn child.
Suseo Police Station launched an investigation into them earlier this month. However, the police seem to have no long-term strategy for cracking down on such crimes.
Asked why cyber defamations are so frequent here, the National Police Agency (NPA) said they have so far been unable to nail down specific reasons.
"We are at a loss. People just post their opinions about celebrities in cyberspace as if it is very natural," said police Lt. Lee Seong-han of the Cyber Terror Response Center, a police department under the wing of the NPA.
The Korea Communications Standard Commission, the state-run agency on the Internet, said that they collect defamation claims in cyberspace from citizens as well as celebrities.
"People can file a cyber defamation complaint with us through our website or call center. After examining the cases, we order Internet portals, such as Naver and Daum, to correct or delete information defaming people," said Lee Yong-baek, a spokesman of the commission.