중앙데일리

Internet ‘witch-hunts’ often target innocents

June 07,2005
The recent case of the “dog dung girl” shows the lengths to which Korean “netizens” will sometimes take a vendetta.
On Monday, the hottest issue on some Korean Web sites was a photo of a woman in her 20s who got off a subway car without cleaning up her dog’s droppings. As the photo circulated, the woman was dubbed the “dog dung girl,” and some Internet users decided she was a public enemy.
They began visiting the Web site of the university they assumed the woman attended, and bombarding it with postings. The site’s server went down because of the surge in traffic. Then people began calling the university, where a staff member finally looked at the photo and said there was no such student at the university.
“This is causing us enormous pain,” the staffer said.
Some experts say that such “cyber witch-hunts” are becoming a serious problem in Korea, as individuals are harassed by large numbers of Internet users ―often based on information that turns out to be wrong.
Last month, a visitor to a Web site for a regional organization in Incheon wrote in a posting that a student at a particular university had struck a disabled child. The Web site for alumni of that university was barraged with postings; the accused student posted a denial and an explanation, but that didn’t stop the harrassment.
The consequences of these witch-hunts can be more serious than that. Last April, relatives of a 30-year-old woman who committed suicide after her boyfriend broke up with her wrote about him online. Soon, the location of his workplace and even his cell phone number were being circulated. He eventually quit his job.
Attorney Lee Yeong-hui said, “People tend to think that illegal acts committed online are not a serious matter. This is a big problem. Even if the content is proven to be factual, posting a photograph or spreading personal information can result in punishment for defamation, which is something Internet users need to know.”
“An immoral act can be expected to be criticized, but personal attacks that cross the line can lead to another infringement on human rights,” said Kim Jong-il, a professor of social science at Konkuk University.
A recent poll at an online community called Damoim found that 23 percent of its 1,805 members agreed with the statement, “When the law is not strong enough, the Internet must be the judge.”


by Sohn Hae-yong, Kwon Ho


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