Cyber Slander Law Has Room for Political Abuse
Top actress Choi Jin-sil's suicide last week was an incident forcing Koreans to look into their increasingly inhumane, psychotic society.
People love, follow and gather around stars all over the world, but many Koreans' abnormal zeal with popular entertainers ― which quickly turns into merciless attacks upon any signs of disappointment ― show their two-faced frivolity and lack of focus in life. Stars usually lead dual lives torn between popular images and their true selves, but the gap sometimes seems to be too wide for some Korean celebrities.
Deep-seated frustration within individuals, stars and ordinary people alike, stemming from cutthroat competition for survival has also made ending one's own life the easiest, simplest ― and most irresponsible ― way out, as Korea leads the world in this category.
In addition, Korea is the country of rumors, another shameful remnant from its long experience of colonization and dictatorship. That rumormongering is still rampant even in this era of freedom of speech shows either the freedom is incomplete or the Koreans have yet to learn how to communicate with one another in public space.
Enter the Internet, through which people can reproduce rumors, abuse and groundless slander to an almost limitless capacity overnight behind the screen of anonymity, and we have already had several victims of cyber character assassinations leading to actual deaths.
So it is hardly surprising the moves of the government and the ruling Grand National Party toward finding ways to restrict malicious posting by Internet users are gaining increasing support. Still the so-called Choi Jin-sil Act prepared by the governing camp requires careful consideration.
Most of all, the proposed law, which consists of two key elements ― sharply expanded application of the rule requiring the use of real names on the Internet and the introduction of a ``Cyber Slander Law" ― could be seen as restricting people's freedom of speech.
Coincidentally or not, Justice Minister Kim Seung-kyu made a similar proposal when the candlelit vigils against U.S. beef imports reached their peak a few months ago, deepening popular suspicion about the government's intention behind the current moves. Considering people who make malicious posting represent only a fraction of total Internet users, this can cause misunderstanding among people as schemes to suppress sound criticism and supervision.
The actual effect of the Cyber Slander Law is also doubtful, as it can hardly be more than the proverbial ``doctor after death.'' At best, the law can punish only the ``original producer'' of the cyber smears but can do little to its numerous reproducers and propagators.
Instead, the government is advised to seek ways to force the operators of portals ― the platforms and circulating routes of such ill-disposed rumors and abuses ― to be held accountable. Though difficult, experts say, there can be a solution.
The political opponents also can ill afford to do nothing while blaming only the government for political motivation, because their opposition seems politically motivated, too. The parties should stop political wrangling about this social issue and pull their wisdom together to find the best ways to prevent this cyber terror while not restricting the people's basic freedom.
Whether Korea remains as a genuine IT power or falls to its adverse side effects depends on people's mature consciousness and politicians' bipartisan efforts to institutionalize it.