Freedom of expression presupposes responsibility
Promoting both freedom of expression and communication and public interest seems a Sisyphean task in Korea.
The government decided to take out malicious rumors from Twitter and other social networking services (SNS). The government will take two steps. First, it will ask users to remove harmful or illegal content such as pornography, gambling, drug abuse, false information, and libel, praise of North Korea and criminal instigations from their sites. If the users refuse, the government will block their accounts.
The government faces a costly logistical overload as it cannot monitor tons of comments and postings. The next question is why Korea alone decided to gag the social media-based private exchange of opinion. The United States and other Western democracies have no such oversight mechanism.
The popularity of the unregulated SNS sites also reflects the dwindling influence of the regulated traditional media. In addition, more and more people have deserted the traditional media, which tend to interpret national issues through their ideological glasses. The traditional media sometimes fail to cover issues that are of keen interest to the public.
The government seeks to narrow the gap between traditional media and the online media community in the degree of responsibility. In fact, the unregulated social media have encroached upon the space of the regulated traditional media.
SNS users must ponder what irreparable damage their hurtful comments can have on innocent people.
The online world has polarized, rather than narrowed, the ideological tension in society. The conservative government may feel the temptation to control the liberals-dominated online world.
Rumors overshadow the SNS world. For example, a comment alleged that it will cost 9 million won for an appendectomy after the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement takes effect.
A Twitter comment encouraged users to throw garbage at the home of the chairman of the governing Grand National Party. It posted a home address of the leader. This is a form of clear terrorism on the leader.
SNS was a trigger of the Arab pro-democracy movement this year. Twitters and Facebook had served as an agitator of unparalleled looting and arson in London last July.
Despite such shortcomings, SNS has expansive advantages such as emergency rescue services.
Two rules may limit the government’s arbitrariness in SNS oversight. One is the adoption of the positive list system whereby those not mentioned in the blacklist will enjoy freedom of expression. Under a sunset code, the government could set the timetable to phase out SNS oversights. The government must also strengthen public notice on false comments.
More important than the regulation itself is a mature attitude of users so that the social media world can be a healthy forum. Decency in comments on SNS is the yardstick of the maturity of Koreans.
Freedom of expression presupposes responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is harmful. Regulating SNS is not a black and white issue.