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Choi suicide sparks debate about Internet slander law

GNP would make Internet users give their real names

Oct 04,2008
With the recent suicide of actress Choi Jin-sil, there is growing public sentiment that penalties against those who post malicious or defamatory comments on the Internet should be strengthened.

Politicians, entertainers and Internet users have entered the debate over whether to introduce laws to regulate slander in cyberspace.

“In the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of entertainers and ordinary people who take their own lives because of malicious Internet postings. There needs to be legal restraint against those making such postings,” an Internet user wrote on one portal.

“Taking advantage of Internet anonymity to make malicious postings and circulate rumors is no longer desirable. There needs to be some legal restraint,” wrote another.

Agora, a discussion site on Daum, had hundreds of different opinions about whether to regulate Internet postings. Many opposed such restrictions.

“Those who make malicious postings need to be punished. Criticism and insult are two different things,” one user wrote on Agora.

“I hope that this does not turn into a 21st century witch hunt against Internet users,” wrote another user, also on Agora.

After Choi committed suicide on Thursday, an act widely believed to stem from rumors about her involvement in the death of fellow actor Ahn Jae-hwan, voices have been calling for some restrictions on the Internet.

There have been previous cases in which Internet users have been penalized for making defamatory postings. In September 2007, 16 people who spread rumors about actress Go So-young were fined between 500,000 won ($409) and 1 million won for defamation.

In 2006, those who made malicious postings regarding the death of unification activist Lim Soo-kyung’s son were fined 1 million won each.

Under related laws, defamation by spreading false rumors is subject to up to seven years in prison but most get away with fines.

According to the Supreme Court of Korea, only 2 percent of slanderers are actually prosecuted.

However, the number of online slander cases has been on the rise, from 316 in 2005, to 350 in 2006, 403 in 2007 and 213 in the first half of this year.

Entertainers, who have been the biggest victims of malicious postings, are taking action.

A union of actors and performers plans to hold a meeting next Monday to discuss ways to protect entertainers from false rumors.

“We are going to talk about ways to deal with malicious rumors and postings and our reaction to the introduction of a cyber slander law,” said Mun Jae-gap, head of the union. “There is a limit to what individual entertainers can do when rumors start spreading. We intend to build a monitoring system.”

The Korean Film Director’s Network made a similar statement. “If the Internet is not a venue for communication but a place where we spit at each other, we would rather go back to an analogue age,” it said.

Meanwhile, ruling Grand National Party lawmakers called for the introduction of laws against problematic postings. But the opposition said the GNP is trying to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet.

The GNP said it intends to require Internet users to input their names before posting comments instead of using an online ID, and to introduce a cyber slander law. GNP floor leader Hong Joon-pyo said in an interview, “If a cyber slander law and a law to require the use of real names on the Internet are not introduced, there will be more casualties caused by Internet slander.”

However, opposition parties including the Democratic Party said this is an attempt to regulate cyberspace to eliminate anti-government postings. The DP said the ruling party is trying to “use the suicide incident politically.”

The DP said a cyber slander law is anti-democratic. If the GNP tries to pass such a law in the National Assembly, the DP said it would obstruct the attempt in the Assembly’s broadcasting and telecommunication committee.

“A solution to suicide should be a suicide prevention law rather than a cyber slander law or requiring the use of real names,” said Park Sun-young, a spokeswoman for the Liberty Forward Party. “There is already a clause on cyber slander in current laws and introducing a similar law goes against the rule of law.”


By Jung Hyo-sik JoongAng Ilbo/ Limb Jae-un Staff Reporter [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]


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