[Viewpoint] After Minerva: gaining balanceBefore I begin, I want to make it clear that I have no intention of staining the reputation of Park Dae-sung, better known by his online pseudonym, “Minerva.”
As soon as Minerva revealed his identity, his authenticity became a hot topic. Minerva was interviewed by OhmyNews [an online news site] and KBS-1 Radio, and readers and listeners doubted that he was indeed the famous blogger.
The online commentator who had a conversation with Minerva carefully chose his words in describing the encounter. He said that he had a hard time communicating with Minerva, from hello to goodbye. His questions may not have been conveyed properly, but at any rate, Minerva’s replies either lacked substance or seemed to miss the point. Minerva’s diagnosis of the Korean economy was not even as insightful as a simple newspaper story. I looked up the interview on the Internet and went over the conversation. I was truly frustrated and puzzled. I could not help thinking: Park Dae-sung could not possibly be the savant that was Minerva.
However, the key point here is not Park Dae-sung as an individual.
As a court has acquitted Park for posting his views on the economy, we will in the future no doubt see a second and a third Minerva.
To be sure, the judge responsible for the ruling is known to have no political axe to grind.
Despite his enormous public impact, Park could not be found guilty. Under the Basic Law on Electronic Communications, one can be punished for communicating false information publicly with the intention to harm the public interest. If Park had written his postings knowing that they were not true and meaning to harm the public interest, he could have been found guilty. Of course, Minerva himself denies all charges. The judge had to trace his thinking process through his writings.
Even if it is certain that Minerva knew that the information was false, he still could not be found guilty. Unless an intention to harm the public interest is proven, he is not guilty.
In Minerva’s case, it’s hard to infer his intentions based only on the writings. Minerva had never discussed his views in person.
It is truly challenging to penetrate the brain of an author and determine ? based solely on his writings ? if he was aware of the credibility of his information. Moreover, the judge has to examine Minerva’s politics and find out if he had sinister intentions. When a case is ambiguous or lacks solid evidence, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
The Minerva case is especially sensitive because it is directly related to the basic right of freedom of speech. In a democratic society, limitation on basic rights has to be minimal, and freedom of speech is often considered the most basic of human rights that needs to be protected for all citizens.
Of course, freedom of speech has accompanying responsibility. Defamation of character is the most notable limitation. While everyone is free to express his opinion, it should not harm others.
Lately, Korean courts have been producing increasingly strict rulings on online libel cases. But in Minerva’s case, there was no defamation involved. The Basic Law on Electronic Communications has been applied because he could have possibly harmed public interest. Simply put, it’s harder to find someone guilty for a violation of the law on electronic communication than for a defamation charge.
This being the case, even if the law is revised and regulations are tightened, the successors of Minerva will continue to spring up regardless of their authenticity. The challenge is how to live alongside these vocal bloggers.
We can make a difference from a personal level. I would like to propose a realistic alternative I call “the balance of knowledge.” We can all make efforts to avoid letting bias intrude on our gaining of knowledge. Just as you have to turn left after turning right when you stretch, we can keep a balance by reading a rightist text after reading a leftist one.
We all tend to choose writings that reflect our own views. But we need to force ourselves to read different opinions as well. That way, we can keep ourselves from unthinkingly leaning toward a certain direction.
It is so easy to gather in groups and be swayed by group thinking when online. By nature, cyberspace tends to be progressive and idealistic. Those who are highly dependent on the Internet need to also obtain information from printed material. They might not like it at first, but good medicine is often bitter in the mouth.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAngIlbo
by Oh Byung-sang
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