[Outlook]Regulating the InternetMany agree that maligning and groundless rumors in cyberspace were one of the reasons actress Choi Jin-sil committed suicide. But I heard someone disagree saying, “That’s not enough to make someone commit suicide. There must be other reasons.”
But he could only say so because he hasn’t been the victim of cyber terrorism himself. One can truly understand that kind of pain only after firsthand experience. In May, when candlelit vigils were staged every night, I wrote a column about the panic over mad cow disease. I wrote that if it was really possible to get the disease, I would be one of the first to get it because I had lived in the United States and consumed a lot of beef there. The point was that fear about mad cow disease was unreasonably blown up.
I wrote with sincerity and honesty but it was regarded as “a far-fetched column that misled people,” one netizen commented. The column was posted on Web sites frequented by progressives and all kinds of condemnation and criticism poured in.
There was no way to know who wrote them, whether it was an elementary school student or a senior citizen, a man or a woman. I got sworn at so many times all at once. I didn’t talk about it openly or lament about it because that would hurt my pride even more. But I can say, it was a horrible experience. Cyber terrorism was terrifying.
But I am okay. As a journalist, I don’t need to worry about popularity like politicians or celebrities do. Celebrities say they don’t try to respond to rumors because if they do, their responses draw even more unnecessary attention. They are under tremendous mental stress as a result. After some celebrities who came under attack committed suicide, a person wrote on the Internet that they were so spoiled that they couldn’t handle the slightest stress or worry. But it is not right to take the issue so lightly.
After Choi’s death, it is said that more hostile comments have been made on the Internet, such as, “If you are Jin-sil [which means “the truth” in Korean], I am a liar,” and “Don’t work as a loan shark in heaven.” Those people must have written these for fun. But they should remember this: If they keep doing this, they will have to pay eventually.
The Britain’s intelligence agency M16 listed 10 dangers that would threaten national security in Britain. One of them was false information that circulates on the Internet. That is already happening in Korea where the Internet is more frequently used than in most countries.
False information and hostile online remarks have damaged our reputation overseas. When the earthquakes hit Sichuan, some Koreans wrote horrible remarks such as, “Those Chinese deserved to die.” People said it was elementary or middle school students but no one knows for sure.
Because those remarks are written by “ghosts,” anti-Korea sentiment increases in China, and the Korean Wave lost its curl. Korean companies will find it more difficult to succeed in China.
It was the same for mad cow disease. The whole country was confused and damaged for months because of groundless rumors about mad cow disease on Internet portals.
The people were divided and they hated those who had different opinions. They attacked companies that ran advertisements in certain newspapers and caused crucial damage. This was done on the Internet, as well.
Problems on the Internet not only push celebrities to commit suicide but also threaten the entire country. There are several ways to resolve this. First, we should educate children in primary, middle and high school about hostile online remarks. We should teach them how grave the consequences can be. They should learn that if they throw a stone from a rooftop, a passerby might be killed.
Second, we should establish a law about contempt on the Internet. Some say that we shouldn’t regulate the online world as it is a free space. But they wouldn’t say this if they, their family members or friends became the targets of cyber terrorism.
Third, the real-name system on the Internet should be expanded. People do all types of things behind the masks of anonymity. They are not necessarily horrible human beings. It is just human nature. Those who want privacy can remain behind closed doors. But they shouldn’t attack other people who are in an open square while they remain in hiding.
Fourth, Internet portals should take more responsibility. Portals claim that they don’t do anything wrong, that they didn’t write the questionable comments but only offered the space. But that is non-sense. Off-line newspapers take full responsibility for all articles that they run. If a column is obscene or dents another’s honor, the newspaper that runs the article is in trouble as well, even if the column was written by a contributing writer.
Nowadays, postings on major portals spread around the world in no time. Their influence and impact are impossible to compare to conventional newspapers. Therefore, Internet portals can’t keep saying that they bear no responsibility.
Humankind has continued its painful march toward freedom. However, insulting other people is not freedom. That is violence. If we don’t overcome these negative aspects of the Internet, the Internet will bring us calamity.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk