To tweet or not to tweet?
Whilst Shakespeare’s Hamlet may have been battling with an existential crisis when he famously asked himself “to be or not to be,” those in the public eye might also benefit from musing aloud “to tweet or not to tweet” before reaching for their smartphones. Admittedly, Hamlet’s contemplation of suicide is probably a melodramatic comparison against the trivialities of social media. But at the risk of ruining a great Shakespearean character, it would seem that, recently, many a politician has fallen foul 140 characters and
This is by no means a Korean phenomenon. The fast growth of social media has given democracies a fantastic new tool for protest and political change. Unfortunately though, it also provides some politicians with yet another public arena to commit a gaffe in.
National Assembly member Kang Yong-suk, no stranger to controversy, was perhaps this year’s first Twitter casualty for drunk-tweeting a series of profanity-laden rants that argued both Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un were at the top of their game because of their parents’ background. An interesting point, and a drunk one at that, recorded forever by Twitter.
Indeed, whilst social media has probably been the defining invention of the century so far, its existence has certainly broken the private-public wall. Where the odd drunken remark or offhand curse was once easily forgotten, such utterances can now be documented forever, and come back to haunt us later.
One need only look at last week’s scandal surrounding Lim Su-kyung, whose outburst at a North Korean defector went viral on Facebook, turning public opinion against her. This week, Lim found herself in hot waters yet again as stories emerged she once retweeted posts from North Korea’s official Twitter account “@uriminzokkiri.” Already branded a “commie” by many, the revelations did little to repair her already damaged public image.
However, what some news outlets failed to report was that Lim had initially retweeted Pyongyang propaganda as an act of solidarity for the arrest of Park Jung-geun, a 23-year-old baby photographer who had been indicted under the National Security Law for “subversive” Twitter activity. When Park wasn’t taking pictures of babies, he would retweet North Korean propaganda, ironically declaring himself a “young general” (after Kim Jong-un) for inheriting his business empire from his father.
Obviously not fans of satire, prosecutors were quick to allege Park’s tweets were helping to spread North Korean propaganda and, whether intended as a joke or not, was certainly no laughing matter. His controversial indictment attracted international attention from human rights groups and fellow freedom-of-speech activists alike, with many Twitter users retweeting similar posts from the North Korean account in protest of his continued interrogation. Lim was one such protester, retweeting “Lee Myung-bak’s clique would be better off shutting its mouth and thinking about its own future” followed shortly by “I am purposely retweeting this. Abolish the National Security Law!”
Although the Tweets in question date back to January this year, their recent re-emergence comes in the midst of a political crisis for Lim. They also come at a time when the growing debate on neo-McCarthyism vs. those labelled as “Jongbuk” (i.e. North Korean apologists) is engulfing Korean politics.
Speaking of McCarthyist politics, current lawmakers weren’t the only ones to get caught in social media crossfire this week. Images of former dictator Chun Doo-hwan returning a salute from a guard of honor at the Korean Military Academy (KMA) spread rapidly through the Twittersphere, outraging netizens. Chun came to power in the early 80s via a coup d’etat and ordered the particularly heavy-handed response to the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement that saw the death of many pro-democracy protesters. Although tried for his crimes, he was later pardoned and his subsequent appearances in public are often marred by scandal and come under heavy online scrutiny.
From one kind of “scandal” to a more trivial one, no week on the Korean Internet would be complete without a “Ladygate.” On Monday, a photo of a portly schoolgirl caught eating “Cup Ramyeon” (instant noodles) in the priority seat of a Busan Metro carriage went viral. Whilst some netizens were quick to reproach the corpulence of our protagonist, others criticized her for an apparent lack of self-awareness.
Yet this week saw another public transport scandal that failed to make as many waves as “Cup Noodle Girl.” A man, appearing to be in his mid-to-late 60s, was filmed sitting in a busy metro carriage watching full-volume adult videos on his phone. A passenger filmed and uploaded a clip of the scene, dubbing the man the “Porno Man on Line 1.”
Whilst the since-deleted “Mangate” video attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube the netizen response was muted. The nature of both acts entailed some form of public disorder, but which was more offensive? A hungry young schoolgirl satisfying her appetite for some junk food or an aging man satisfying an appetite of a far more scandalous nature? Whilst female Twitter users were keen to underline the seemingly disproportionate attention to “Cup Noodle Girl,” male netizens complained their female counterparts were protesting too much ― despite the fact women really do seem to be dealt an unfair hand on the Korean Internet.
At the risk of milking the Shakespeare references, the Danish Queen once said to Hamlet “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Well, in this case, wethinks not. What do youthinks?
James Pearson and Raphael Rashid are co-editors of the website koreaBANG, a daily-updated blog that translates the latest hot issues on the Korean Internet into English. They can be contacted on www.koreabang.com or via Twitter: @koreaBANG.