After Internet traffic has far surpassed telephone usage, censorship has emerged as a key issue at home and abroad.
However, apart from the global issue of whether to prevent faudulent materials or groundless information from spreading on the Internet, the Korean government and state agencies have frequently held a strict yardstick against ordinary citizens over their criticism of policymakers.
Past and incumbent governments sometimes appeared to have been paranoid about ordinary citizens denouncing senior officials’ irregular practices.
It is righteous for law enforcement agencies to punish those spreading false rumors about celebrities including political heavyweights in a vicious manner.
But the nation’s criminal law stipulates that an individual who posted another person’s misconduct under his or her name on blog or Facebook could be subject to legal punishment ― even if the other person’s misconduct is not groundless.
“Under the cyberdefamation law, simply spreading malfeasance with the real names of others on the Internet could be the target of criminal investigation or libel suit. It must be a controversial topic,” said law professor Jeon Ji-yeon of Yonsei University.
Korea University Law School professor Park Kyung-shin criticized the criminal law for allowing information to spread only when the kind of post is regarded as writing for public interest.
“An employee who posted the name of his owner on a website for habitual delay in payment of monthly wages had to face a libel suit from the owner because judges ruled that the writing is irrelevant to the public interest,” Park said on his recent column.
Many legal pundits share the view that too strict laws and regulations are putting a damper on ordinary citizens’ move to express their views freely.
Further, more citizens hesitate to post their or borrow others’ writings as state agencies or conglomerates abuse litigation for the simple purpose of quelling criticism and anger from the public toward policymakers and business tycoons.
Popular TV personality Kim Je-dong had been accused of having violated the election law by posting messages encouraging his Twitter followers to cast ballots in the Seoul mayoral election in late 2011.
The logic goes something like this. As Kim is a well-known liberal comedian, his messages encouraging people to exercise their voting rights are tantamount to campaigning for a liberal candidate, and thus he violated the election law.
But the majority of netizens said it was silly to believe that voters would be swayed by an entertainer’s exhortation. Netizens said ordinary voters know who to vote for regardless of what Kim says on Twitter.
Further, a former criminology professor had been sued by the National Intelligence Service for criticizing the spy agency’s being politically exploited.
Experts say that the government-led move to control SNS is doomed to fail. In principle, SNS should be viewed as a private space where friends and followers chat and exchange information and opinions on whatever issues.
They stress that it is important to check any unlawful or destabilizing acts both online and offline.
“However, law enforcement authorities have put too much emphasis on restricting basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” said a Seoul-based lawyer.
The government doesn’t have to bother to take a peek into what is basically private space. Rather, it needs to refrain from blocking its employees for expressing their opinions on certain issues on social media.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)