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Naver accused of excessive censorship of webtoons after string of controversies

After the success of K-pop, K-drama and even K-movies internationally, the letter “K” is now often placed in front of Korean products that make Koreans proud. “K-quarantine” was a word used in multiple headlines this year to recognize the relative success of Korea in containing the COVID-19.

However, there is one K- word that became widespread online this year that does the opposite: “K-censorship” is a derogatory term used to criticize excessive censorship in Korea.

Internet portal site Naver was plagued this summer by a series of scandals concerning violence and sexual references in some of its webtoons, resulting in the removal or re-editing of certain scenes. Each time, Naver Webtoon apologized and promised stricter guidelines for its webtoons.

But the result was not what readers had expected.

Naver Webtoon has a guideline that has been written while taking into consideration the standards set by the Publication Ethics Committee, the Korea Media Rating Board, the Korea Communication Standards Commission, and others. The guideline is not made available to the public, according to a Naver Webtoon Official.

Naver does not censor the final product unilaterally. It checks the work of the authors and make changes only in collaboration with the author. Yet, edited webtoons often come under criticism from both readers and authors.

Although Naver and the artists concerned intended to change scenes that highlighted female bodies or showed violence, some fans thought the censorship went too far.
The blade of a knife is gone after it was edited. (Naver Webtoon)
The blade of a knife is gone after it was edited. (Naver Webtoon)
“We are more careful with what we express nowadays, but Naver’s censorship has gone too far. Recent webtoon censorship has been increasingly disrupting the readers’ experience both graphically (pixelization) and narratively. If Naver ever films an action movie of its own, the actors will be wielding swords without blades. Just the handles. It’s simply nonsense,” one disgruntled webtoon reader told The Korea Herald.

Reader’s displeasure about the scenes that had caused trouble in the summer can be felt in the comments and ratings of the webtoons. Popular webtoons that had consistently received high ratings of 9 out of 10 before the readers were disturbed by the stories, are now getting ratings below 5 on many of the controversial episodes. Additionally, comment sections are being filled with expressions of discomfort.

Recently, people are questioning excessive censorship after a scene featuring high school students drinking alcohol was changed to a scene of the students drinking soda and a scene showing some female characters were changed to make them less provocative.

Over 20,000 people up-voted comments on Episode 151 of “The Girl from Random Chatting” that mocked Naver Webtoon for making one of the characters drunk off of soda after alcohol was replaced by a soft drink.
A censored scene from “Life Completely Ruined” (Naver Webtoon)
A censored scene from “Life Completely Ruined” (Naver Webtoon)
The author of the webtoon “Life Completely Ruined” used mosaic to blur the bum of a female character in leggings, only to remove the mosaic after media coverage. Other webtoons had to blur punching scenes or completely remove scenes in which the characters were beaten up.

Some webtoon artists lamented the whole censorship situation.

“It’s not that I don’t understand Naver’s stance. These days, some readers have very high censorship standards. It’s natural that big platforms like Naver are cautious. But, as an author, I question whether it is possible to keep the story going with these standards,” said one author on his personal blog.

The author of “The Girl from Random Chatting” also said in a livestream that although he wanted to upload an uncensored version, he would be responsible for any criticism received and decided not to do so. He also mentioned that Naver is trying to protect the authors.

Naver Webtoon has over 67 million monthly users and grossed over 3 billion won ($2.65 million) in a single day in August.

Other authors, such as Joo Ho-min of “Along With the Gods,” say that the times are difficult for webtoon artists with all the censorship by readers.

Similar censorship occurred when the Juvenile Protection Act in 1997 caused many adult comics go out of business, prompting talented comic artists like Boichi, or Park Mu-jik, of “Dr. Stone” to move to Japan.

Naver officials said that the company’s guidelines would continue to be adjusted to meet society’s requirements.

By Lim Jang-won (