[LINK] Bruised S.Korean government takes on "infodemics"
brd at iimetro.com.au
Tue Aug 5 21:37:14 EST 2008
Bruised S.Korean government takes on "infodemics"
By Kim Junghyun
4 August 2008 07:56AM
South Korea's unpopular young government is having second thoughts about
the benefits of running the world's most wired society.
The mass access to the Internet, which helped ex-CEO Lee Myung-bak to
his resounding presidential election victory, went on to become the
instrument helping shatter that popularity in just five months in office.
Now the government is working on new rules to rein in the excesses of
its netizens and bring some control to the information -- and
disinformation -- that bombards the nation's computer screens.
"We have to guard against 'infodemics,' in which inaccurate, false
information is disseminated, prompting social unrest that spreads like
an epidemic," Lee told parliament early in July.
Lee has every reason to take it personally.
Barely had he taken office in February than he was accused of putting
the nation's health at risk by agreeing to import U.S. beef, long banned
because of concerns over mad cow disease.
Much of the fear, at times hysteria, was fanned by blogs and discussion
boards that crammed into South Korea's Internet space.
It helped trigger mass protests that daily clogged central Seoul in late
spring and early summer as tens of thousands took to the streets to
demand U.S. beef be kept from South Korean tables.
An early hot topic was a scientific study, heavily distorted in the
retelling but widely believed judging by Internet postings, that Koreans
had a genetic predisposition to catching the disease.
Another was that a beef by-product used in the manufacture of diapers
put the nation's babies at risk of succumbing to bovine spongiform
But the government argues its concern goes beyond attacks on its
policies, and rules are needed to bring a largely uncontrolled media
into line with its traditional counterpart.
Stories abound of people being cruelly and very publicly hounded on the
Internet, sometimes to the point of suicide.
Personal information too has become increasingly vulnerable. Earlier
this year, the country's biggest online market place was hacked and
enough information to identify some 13 million people released to anyone
with an Internet connection -- which includes most of South Korea's
The Justice Ministry is working on what it calls a Cyber Defamation Law.
"The reality is that we lack the means to effectively deal with harmful
Internet messages," a ministry official said.
The Korean Communications Commission, which regulates the industry, has
come up with its own rules to oblige portals to suspend sites stepping
outside the limits and force Websites to use real names of anyone
The commission says the measures are designed to improve security and
reduce the spread of false information.
Predictably, voices are rising that the government moves are attempts to
erode freedom in a country that has had only two deades of democratic
"The regulations violate the autonomy of the Internet and are an
effective tool for tighter media control by the government," said Lee
Han-ki, senior editor at the popular citizen news Website OhMyNews
"The regulations would bring about a reverse in the advancement of the
Internet media as a whole."
But an official with one major local portal, who asked not to be
identified, said he thought the commission was right to get tough.
It was also backed by some academics, including Kweon Sang-hee, a
journalism and mass communications professor at Sungkyunkwan University.
"South Korea is a leading testbed for the IT industry and the Internet
media here certainly has a frontier-like aspect in leading experimental
"But the Internet media should also serve public good, and compared with
other countries, South Korea has lacked the institutional control over
the media, in which people tend to expand and reproduce unverified,
South Korea's netizens remain unconvinced.
"If you want to sue me with the Cyber Defamation Law, go ahead. History
will charge you with insulting South Koreans," read one posting.
brd at iimetro.com.au
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