Dark side of cyberspace

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Dark side of cyberspace

The police yesterday wrapped up its investigation into the suspicious death of Song Ji-seon, an MBC Sports Plus announcer who was found dead on Monday, after concluding that she committed suicide. But the fallout will likely linger because her death was a direct result of social networking services’ dark side.

Before jumping from her 19th-floor apartment in southern Seoul, Song, 30, left a message on Twitter and Cyworld, a local SNS operator. On her Twitter page, she wrote that she never knew she could become a victim of netizens’ slander, saying she regretted her earlier posts and confessed her extreme depression over collective attacks.

In the smartphone and Internet age, we are not free from the allure of social networking services. Cyworld’s Mini Homepage, to which Song subscribed, has more than 30 million members, and Twitter more than 2.2 million in Korea. When combining the clients of Facebook, MeToday, MypeopleNet and Kakao Talk, a whopping 85 percent of the Korean population use social networking services.

But the problem is that while these services enable users to communicate with each other almost limitlessly, they also have devilish implications - indiscriminate violence - as seen by malicious comments and acts of cyberstalking. Song, too, suffered from evil assaults that were duplicated over and over through cyberspace.

The main culprit in her suicide is, of course, netizens’ muckraking and personal attacks conducted under the cloak of anonymity. Netizens’ next target is reportedly Song’s boyfriend, who is a professional baseball player.

But they should not forget this: the digital world they enjoy always records traces of their presence, which could be called the curse of this “tell-all generation.” Netizens in the United States are known to be busy erasing all traces of themselves in cyberspace in order to deny companies access to sensitive information that might be uncovered during employment background checks. They should remember that their violent actions, whether committed willfully or not, will always come back to them some day.

Social networking services are worthwhile only when netizens know how to use them wisely. They can serve as an effective tool for promotional campaigns or for igniting the flames of revolution, as in Tunisia. But if one uses the instrument in a bad way, it suddenly turns into deadly poison. Netizens must follow an ethics code befitting their status as mature citizens in a high-tech world.
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