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Cyberspace tainted with racist postings

Looking at Internet cafes with many messages disparaging migrant workers based on their appearances and nationalities, Soe Moe Thu feels Korea still has a long way to go to establish a “mature” online culture.

To maintain the country’s reputation for state-of-the-art Internet infrastructure, the Seoul government needs to make more efforts to ameliorate “online manners,” the 36-year-old Myanmarese said.

“When people write things online, they appear to become barbarians unaware of culture and ethics, taking advantage of anonymity and doing whatever they please. I rarely see such people offline, but encounter them quite often online,” he told The Korea Herald.

“The messages show how antagonistic they are toward migrant workers and how deeply such discriminatory thoughts are lodged in their minds.”

He came to Korea in 1995 to work here. He currently heads an Internet television station, which was established in 2005 and is dedicated to migrant people living in Korea.

According to research done last October by the state human rights watchdog, there were many online disparaging postings. Some baselessly associated those from the Middle East with terrorists while others claimed those from Southeastern Asian nations looked like drug dealers.

He stressed that such messages could tarnish the nation’s image and hinder efforts to become one of the world’s top-tier nations. Korea is becoming increasingly multicultural with the number of foreign residents having topped 1.3 million.

“Such messages remain as part of history, contributing to the establishment of the country’s image. Those who understand Korean may feel disheartened by the messages,” he said.

“To become an advanced country in the material sense, you only have to earn much money. However, to be an advanced state in terms of mental qualities, there needs to be education to help people refrain (from posting such messages).”

Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, the state human rights watchdog has advised Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam to include measures to “improve” such discriminatory expressions online in government policies, officials said Monday.

The National Human Rights Commission has also conveyed its opinion to the Korea Internet Self-governance Organization that it should strive to block the online distribution of discriminatory expressions. The KISO is an entity launched in 2009 by seven major Internet portals to deal with slanderous postings.

The commission believes that the government should establish policies to enhance people’s understanding of racial and cultural diversities so as to minimize conflicts in the increasingly multicultural society.

“We carried out research on such messages last year and realized they were as serious as we thought they would be. As the ripple effect on the Internet is great and runs long, we thought we need to take policy measures to address this problem,” said Park Sung-nam, chief of the NHRC team handling human right issues for migrants.

The number of foreign residents here, including short-term sojourners, has steadily increased.

The figure, which stood at 566,835 in 2001, increased to 1,066,273 in 2007, 1,168,477 in 2009 and 1,261,415 last year, according to the Korea Immigration Service. As of March 31, it stands at 1,308,743.

By Song Sang-ho (