With globalization accelerating and social networking services (SNS) becoming increasingly influential, it is easy for truth and freedom of speech to become casualties of the hi-tech age.
We should ask ourselves how much freedom of speech will remain in our society as it is steadily endangered by abuses of truth and the ever ready madness of crowds.
Oversensitive SNS users, searching for people to criticize, often abuse freedom of speech by making us all fear becoming targets of irrational criticism.
One recent online storm perfectly illustrates this. A pregnant woman criticized Chaesundang, a restaurant chain, and one of its workers. The woman first reported how rude the employee was and stated that she was kicked in the stomach when she told the employee that she was pregnant. Soon, many SNS users across the nation were writing online abuse directed at Chaesundang and its employee.
Later, when the woman admitted that the employee hadn’t in fact kicked her in the stomach SNS users then turned against her and focused criticism on her wrongdoings.
These wild changes in opinion from SNS users have further limited our freedom by demonstrating how falsehood online can all too quickly become accepted and disseminated as fact, therefore abusing opportunities the internet offers of having public discourse of real value. Moreover, free speech is devalued by such incidents, and may result in legislation to curb free online expression.
Another example is when a student from Korea University publicly opposed the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island. Kim Ji-yoon, compared the Navy to pirates; infuriating sailors which made this a hot online issue.
Surely, it is apparent that her primary intentions were probably focused, not on insulting or defaming the Navy, but on expressing her disagreement to the construction plan.
Nevertheless she was not only sued by the Navy’s chief of staff, but also was heavily criticized by numerous SNS users. She was accused of defaming the Navy and the conscripts serving almost two years in the military to work for the nation.
Although the accusations are, to some extent, understandable, I personally feel as though she was over-criticized. Being subjected to a witch-hunt by various Internet users for stating her views is surely too harsh a punishment to endure for someone so young.
So how much freedom of speech do we actually possess and what can be done to stop people who voice their views being severely criticized by so many people?
How can we even define the definite boundaries of freedom?
Restricting freedom is not always the best way to prevent witch hunts.
So what is?
Frankly, there is no such thing as a “best resolution” for this predicament; but we should stop expressing unfounded opinions that might damage others and the majority must end their habit of criticizing for its own sake.
This, however, is unrealistic and thus we are left without a solution. Instead, we must try to understand each other; to think twice before we act; to move on from the past; and to abstain from criticizing others without grounds to do so.
The correlation of all these factors is vital, especially at a time when everyone is so sensitive on issues.
It is difficult to apply though as too many people remain ignorant of how others may feel and unleash their fury all too easily. In a social climate in which everyone is incredibly protective and vigilant, we have to learn to understand the extent to which our words can affect people’s feelings.
A symbiotic relationship between careful thinking of what can be, or rather, should be, said, and respecting others’ opinions appears to be the only option we have.
The writer is a third-year student at Gwacheon Foreign Language High School in Gwacheon, south of Seoul.