[NOTEBOOK]Come Out and Identify Yourself

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[NOTEBOOK]Come Out and Identify Yourself

On Friday morning, there was a phone call from the novelist Lee Mun-yol.

"My Internet home page went down. I did not intentionally shut down the home page, its operator (www.readers.co.kr) temporarily closed the web site, since too many people wanted to open it. I hope there would not be any misunderstandings."

After a column written by Mr. Lee with the headline "Would you want a government without newspapers" appeared July 2 in a daily newspaper, his home page (www.munyol.pe.kr) was bombarded by unsolicited messages. Personal attacks and insulting remarks flooded into the Website, along with letters of encouragement about the column, which addressed the recent government investigation into alleged tax evasion by newspaper companies.

One person wrote, "I was deeply disappointed with your column. I am going to return the collection of books you wrote." Mr. Lee responded, "Go ahead and return it. I will give you the refund." Then, the message board turned into chaos with people returning books and asking for a refund.

Since all the insulting remarks and personal attacks left on the Website were from Internet users who chose not to identify themselves, and the users were taking sides and hurling epithets at each other, I was not comfortable writing about this incident. But, since Mr. Lee is one of the most influential writers of our time, with more than 20 million copies of his books having been sold, the situation is worth mentioning in this newspaper.

Responding to the onslaught, Mr. Lee said, "Initially I tried to answer them with sincerity, however, I gave up doing that because there were too many letters that are too vulgar to reply to. But I hoped they would continue to discuss what they have on their minds on my home page, although I stopped participating in the discussion."

The phone call from Mr. Lee came as I was reading an article in a daily newspaper about Choo Mi-ae, the Millennium Democratic Party congresswoman who made obscene comments about Mr. Lee and a daily while drinking during a get together with her peers.

Ms. Choo said, "That unreasonable fellow Lee Mun-yol wrote a column for the newspaper," using an expletive to describe the daily, with several reporters present.

On the message board of Mr. Lee's home page, there were posted many kinds of similar obscene comments. Of course, such comments proliferate in the cyber world, where people can be anonymous. A number of people have experienced a barrage of insults and verbal attacks through the phone and the Internet, but not being able to talk back frustrated them and made them feel as though they had been robbed.

Are we giving more weight to being anonymous than to being identified? Or do we live in an era where the anonymous can trample our rights? Are we living in an age of cascading insults against each other, with those of conscience, conviction and intellect caught on the middle ground, crushed between the left and right, progressive and conservative?

The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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