Internet Witch-hunts

The Korea Times highlights a growing need to address cyber ethics and regulation on the Internet

The Korea Times
Thursday, June 9, 2005

Korea is one of the global leaders in IT industry, but the nation’s awareness of ethics falls short of its technological reputation. Nothing shows this better than the ongoing controversy about the cyber terror against the "dog excrement girl." The young woman has become the hottest target on the Korean websites since she reportedly got off a subway car without cleaning up her pet's poo. The Internet has turned what could have ended just as a personal rebuke into a national bashing.

There are more cases of an "Internet witch-hunt." A college student is on a leave of absence from school after a bombardment of comments from web surfers for his scuffle with a friend at a library. An office worker had to quit his job after someone wrote that the suicide of his former girlfriend was due to his "betrayal." Soon, the location of his workplace and even his cell phone numbers were being circulated. The Internet is turning the whole society into a kangaroo court.

These were only part of the recent examples of defamation of characters and infringements on privacy. It was not so long ago a few female entertainers had to leave their jobs for quite a while as their love-making scenes were freely circulating on the Net. These days, even teenagers are spreading pornographies just to increase visitors to their blogs, and teens addicted to violent computer games are imitating the scenes off-line with little sense of guilt. Some morbid addicts don’t leave their rooms for years.

All this dark side of IT superpower is evidenced in various statistics. The number of cyber crimes, such as pornography, encouraging gambling and other violations of social orders, even blasphemy, increased from 11,033 in 2002, 18,031 in 2003 and to 34,035 in 2004. The number of libel cases alone almost doubled to 2,285 last year from 1,248 three years ago. The number of Koreans subscribing to the Internet stood at 12.1 million, representing 70 percent of the total number of families, the highest level even among OECD countries.

Belatedly, the government is stepping up efforts to crack down on this infringement on privacy. In what shows the nation’s overall lack of sensitivity in this area,however, even the Ministry of Communication and Information has recently come under fire for trying to computerize the biological information of high school students. Before it is too late, related agencies are advised to introduce real names and mandate the disclosure of information managers and enhance the certification procedures.

Eventually, however, it should be up to the good sense of web surfers as well as some societal soul-searching to prevent the lack of ethical awareness from turning the IT superpower into an IT villain.