In cyberspace, everybody can see your theme
Like many bloggers her age, Song enjoyed posting photos on her Web site. Most were of her friends and she would often add her personal thoughts. But little did she know that an unwelcome set of eyes was soaking up her information, moving her entries to his own blog, a process called “peom” in Korean Internet jargon.
“Some unknown loser kept visiting my blog and stealing my photos,” she said. “He made it look like we were friends. He even called my friends, using my blog information, and pretended that he knew me well.”
Such stories are common among bloggers, and many say they have been the victim of an unpleasant experience. Some have lost photos, some were threatened by anonymous comments left on their page and some complained their privacy has been invaded. And, sadly, many of them realized that they had been revealing too much about themselves, assuming that only friendly eyes were taking a peep at their blogs.
One Korean man is especially sorry about something he wrote in his personal blog. Last month he smoked pot in Amsterdam during a business trip and wrote about his experience. He was busted when he returned home because he had broken Korea’s drug laws, which apply to Koreans even when they are overseas. His case is still pending.
That situation is extreme, but many Korean bloggers say they have had bad experiences. After all, 13 million people, or 40 percent of the Internet population in Korea, roam through the blogsphere, according to an estimate from the National Internet Development Agency of Korea, and that’s a lot of people with whom to share one’s intimate details.
A college freshman, Cha Hyeon-jeong (not her real name), likes to decorate her blog in the same way as she would decorate her room. She fills the space with background music, wallpaper and even virtual furniture for her avatar to “live” in. She believes creating a pretty blog is a good way to promote herself, both in and out of cyber space. But her blog, which also served as a meeting place for her friends, ran into trouble. An acquaintance left a message, asking Cha whether she had enjoyed herself at an all-night rave party. Cha’s mother saw the posting and was horrified. She thought that her daughter had been spending the night at a friend’s house.
Kang Seong-won, 30, said he got involved in a disastrous fight with his regular girlfriend, after a girl he met on a secret blind date left him a message, thanking him for a nice dinner. His girlfriend saw it and was livid. Kang tried to convince his girlfriend that it was only a casual dinner, but his girlfriend would not believe him.
“If you plan to lie, you must keep your conversational blog secure,”said Park Yu-hui, a dating columnist who writes for a sports paper. “It’s easy to find out if somebody is lying these days, just by browsing through a few blogs.”
Young Korean bloggers are regarded as a fearsome group, and are known as “Net-parazzi” in the entertainment industry. Their investigative techniques are so aggressive that they have been compared to organizations like the CIA. They are capable of digging into the heart of every juicy piece of gossip. The Net-parazzi visit the blogs of movie or pop stars and grind their way through all the information, to see what dirt they can find. They probe old photos, study any unusual messages and sift through blog names they think celebrities might have used on the Internet to disguise their identities.
This was how the actresses Hyun Young, Kim Seon-a and Kim A-jung were exposed after they tried to hide their past plastic surgeries. Singer Kim Sang-hyeok was caught lying about his drunk driving. Police had initially charged him with a hit-and-run. But a few days later bloggers proved that he had been drinking on the same night, after they discovered a message he had left on one of his friend’s pages.
Actor Lee Jun-ki had to shut down his personal blog after a group of bloggers found out that he left a remark praising Japanese imperialism. The public anger did not die down until he decided to close his blog, even though he explained that the context of his remarks had been misunderstood.
Bloggers also found out that actress So Yi-hyeon and singer Ko Yu-jin were having a relationship, while soccer star Kim Nam-il and announcer Kim Bo-min were found to have left evidence on friends’ blogs that they were secretly dating each other.
Bloggers made a big fuss when swimmer Park Tae-hwan and figure skater Kim Yeon-a left congratulatory messages on each other’s blogs.
The Net-parazzi were disappointed when it turned out that they were just friends. But, more recently, bloggers found out that Park and Ivy, a star singer, are related. Although Park’s parents had denied that the two had family ties, bloggers continued to probe into the relationship and his parents now admit they are distant cousins.
But this national frenzy over blogging seems to be dying down, as antagonism against the idea of free-for-all pages on the Web is spreading among some users.
Despite continuous warnings from the Korea Internet Safety Commission that even a short reply on the Web can be used as the basis of a libel suit, bloggers complain that, these days, quality conversations are hard to have.
Lee Sung-min, 28, stopped blogging because he felt uncomfortable seeing the negative comments other bloggers had left on his page in response to his articles or photos. The snipers often chose to remain anonymous. Kim Jeong-eun closed up her photo album menu and only runs the board page because she found out that some of her photos were circulating on the Web.
Cyworld, the large blog service in the country, said it is running a Cyworld Clean Campaign to promote good conduct in the blogging community
“We initiated a three-outs rule where we prohibit the offender from using our blog service for as long as one year if others find that person has been rude and report the offense to us on three occasions,” said Shin Hui-jeong, of SK Communications Corp.
Some bloggers say the existing service is too busy and too commercialized. They decided to call it quits and instead went out looking for a new service.
TNC, a new provider of blog software services such as Tattertools, offers a self-hosted blogging tool that allows users to behave as they please.
“So far 300,000 are using Tattertools blogs, but the number is continuously on the rise because they like the idea that we keep on adding new features and themes for free,” said Lee So-jeong, a manager at TNC.
Other young Korean bloggers like Lee Eun-joo settled on foreign-based blog services such as the “hi5” or “Facebook” to continue blogging after they opted out of domestic services.
“My friends and I found a new service that is less known here,” Lee, a college student said. “You can keep away from those you don’t want to hear from but you can still connect with your friends.”
By Lee Min-a Staff Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]