Online anonymity hotly debated in South Korea
SEOUL, Oct 16, 2008 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) --
Whether to continue to guarantee online anonymity is being hotly debated in South Korea, regarded as one of the world's most wired, tech-savvy countries, folowing the suicide of an iconic actress.
Earlier this month, South Korea's celebrity Choi Jin-sil killed herself after online rumors circulated that she was involved in the death of a fellow actor, who some gossipers claimed had borrowed a large amount of money from Choi.
Opinion leaders and politicians blamed the Internet as the source of the malicious rumors and has since used the case to demand that online anonymity be banned.
"We will press hard to pass the Cyber Defamation Law and the real-name system," Hong Joon-pyo, the ruling Grand National Party's floor leader, told reporters last week. "It is wrong to neglect the fact that violence is rampant online, due to anonymity."
There have been similar calls for stronger control of the online community, probably the most active and powerful public medium in South Korea.
Spurred by postings on the open bulletin at Daum, one of the major Internet portals here, South Koreans took to the streets for months earlier this year to protest the government decision to resume U.S. beef imports
Daum's bulletin served as the main stage where its visitors posted what they knew or believed to be the facts about the dangers of consuming U.S. beef amid mad cow disease scare.
The public anger and pressure eventually forced President Lee Myung-bak to apologize twice and to reopen beef negotiations with the U.S.
Although some online bloggers questioned the intentions and accuracy of those postings, they were accused of rejecting majority opinion.
"These days, Internet users tend to be too lazy to sift out the truth from lies. When a lie is accepted as the truth by a majority, it spreads in geometric progression," said Won In-kun, an online blogger in his 20's.
"If one writes on the Internet or forwards what someone else wrote, he or she needs to be held responsible for the action," Won said. "If anonymity is banned, people will be more responsible on what they post online."
What's ironic is that some Internet users,who held actress Choi accountable for the death of actor Ahn Jae-hwan, are now attacking online the person accused of putting up the first posting about the alleged link between the two.
Only known by her last name Paik, the accused recently quit her job at a Seoul securities firm after her identity and photographs were exposed online, by anonymous posters.
Paik was questioned by investigators soon after Choi's suicide and ultimately indicted for defamation.
"They (netizens) don't stop. They seem to have forgotten what drove Choi to commit a suicide. They are caught in a circle of witch-hunting," said 31-year old office worker, Kim Se-hee.
"If Paik is really responsible for spreading the rumor, she will be punished by law," she said.
According to a report released last week by the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice, 1,852 people were sued for libel or slander and were taken to court in 2007 alone, an increase of 17 percent from 1,583 in 2006.
But anonymity on the Internet is also credited with having helped establish democracy in the country.
"I admit that there are downsides to the anonymity, but at the same time, it gave the underprivileged a chance to raise their voice," said Park Jun-chul, a college student.
"If there is no anonymity, not so many people will risk saying what is really happening at work places, schools, or in the society," he said.
Yun Hyun-shik, a policy adviser for minor opposition New Progressive Party, argued prohibiting anonymity goes against the very nature of the Internet.
"Anonymity is a unique characteristic of the online community. Denying it is a denial of the Internet itself," he said.
Yun said there are already laws in place that can punish online defamation.
"The true nature of the problem is being distorted when the anonymity issue is blamed wholesale for the recent incident," Yun said, referring to Choi's suicide.
Besides, not allowing anonymity could hurt innocent people wrongly targeted just because they have same names as those under suspicion, he said.