[Viewpoint] Purging on the Web

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[Viewpoint] Purging on the Web

The dark side of the Web - the inhumanity and brutality - has recently gotten out of hand. Malicious Internet hounds compelled the actress Choi Jin-sil to take her own life last year and they recently got pop singer Jaebeom ousted from the boy band 2PM over MySpace comments he made years ago. And a group of local netizens made fools of themselves over the summer when some American pornographers filed a lawsuit against them over illegal downloading.

The situation has gotten so serious that we are no longer examining the issue of ethics for individual Web users. When a multitude of people display common behavior in a particular environment, we have to assume that it is human nature.

So, as a solution, it would be best to improve the environment in which the unwarranted behavior is taking place.

It’s interesting to note that public toilets were plastered with graffiti in the 1970s and ’80s. The walls were blanketed with lewd language, sometimes with a corner of philosophical or political enlightenment. Popular comments invited a chain of discussions.

But toilet scribbling has become a thing of the past since the Internet has started to provide more space.

Why did people scribble while in the restroom? Perhaps, first of all, because no one would know who wrote it. The writer and reader would never come across each other, a level of anonymity that allows the scribe to unleash whatever is on his or her mind.

There is also, arguably, a connection between physical and mental evacuation, making the Web a kind of toilet space. Behind closed doors, the line between what can and cannot be done blurs, emboldening “writers” to issue forth profanities that would usually not be appropriate to utter in public.

It’s as if the Web users are surrounded by a specially built mirror. They think they are alone and can’t be seen but everyone is looking in on them.

The reality is, when you think you’re alone with your computer, you’re not. The eyes of the world are on you. The trouble is, when we think we’re alone, we don’t care what other people think or say about us.

People today tread a fine line between privacy and the public domain. In this crowded world they need space for release, which makes it churlish of us to criticize the function of the Web. It’s ridiculous for society to send these people to a graffiti-covered restroom and then criticize them for writing on the walls.

One solution might be to make a pop-up box that appears on the screen to remind users how many people are looking at the page.

It would be even better if you could click a button on a Web page and find out information about a writer, where they are from and other details.

When we speak, we consider the listener. If the listener happens to be elderly, people are less likely to be insulting.

After all, in an area fitted with closed circuit cameras, there is usually a warning sign. The camera is there to prevent crimes in dark corners of a city, not to expose private intimacy between two lovers.

With some kind of alert system in place, a higher level of constructive correspondence could take place and we would probably see a greater level of civility, but in the nameless realm of the Internet, it is hard to sustain good manners.

We can’t solve the problem of people being abusive and cruel online by merely prosecuting a number of netizens. We need a warning sign to enlighten Internet users that every time they log on, they are not in a private world, but a shared one.


*The writer is a professor of Korean literature at Kyung Hee University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Hye-sil
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