Text bombs are violence
The author is an emeritus professor of journalism at Hanyang University.
The attitude of the president and ruling party politicians on the text bombing of supporters is pathetic. After President Moon Jae-in’s speech commemorating his fourth year in the office, 20 reporters were selected to ask questions. Answering questions, Moon said that as means of expression have diversified thanks to the development of digital information technology, it was only natural to express opinions through text messages. The politicians should be more tolerant about such messages, said Moon. He added that messages should be polite, considerate and written in a way to win support and empathy.
But I don’t think text bombs are a means of expression to be tolerated. That is a violence that must be strictly eradicated. “I think it is a spice that makes competition interesting,” said the president at the presidential debate hosted by MBN in 2017 on the texts and comments on the party primary candidates by his radical supporters. At the new year’s news conference in January 2018, he was asked if he had anything to say to the supporters using harsh expressions, and he said that whether they share his ideas or not, he accepted it as an expression of opinions by voters.
In Democratic Party leader and council elections held after the party’s crushing defeats in the mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, texts were defended as “the voice of the public.” But they should know that the text bombs and negligence and support for them are against the spirit of the digital age.
Text bombing is an attack in which hundreds and thousands of violent texts are sent to certain people, with a mixture of harsh words, derision, discrimination, hatred, insults, curses, threats and fear. Verbal attacks result in very bad short-term and long-term results both physically and mentally by attacking character, ability and pride and hurting the receiver instead of advocating or defending one’s position or refuting opponent’s arguments. We don’t have to go so far. Some first-time ruling party lawmakers suggested repenting over the Cho Kuk case, and they retracted their position after being attacked by hard-liners. They confessed that they had mental breakdowns after being cursed indiscriminately hours, including insults on families and sexual harassment. The same applies to non-political fields. There are many celebrities who killed themselves after being bombarded with texts.
The digital era created new means of communication that the mankind hadn’t experienced — through social media such as Kakao Talk, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. People become the owner of information by creating and distributing what they want to say.
The vertical society of a few elites monopolizing information and exercising power has turned into a horizontal society of free production and usage of information. In a transparent, open society, anyone can express opinions regardless of qualification, class, gender, occupation, wealth or age and propose opinions on social issues and community operation.
It was expected that expanding the space for communication would make grassroot democracy blossom. But less than 20 years after social media’s expansion, behavior that has a negative impact on democratic development has appeared. Public opinions have been manipulated for personal interests, comments distorted public opinions, and fake information damaged democracy and community’s unity and caused discord.
Text bombs that attempt to control another person’s thoughts and acts through verbal attacks, threats and coercion undermine the value of the digital era. Disabling different opinions, thoughts and discussions deny the philosophy of democracy based on co-existence and co-living with people with different opinions, unlike the communist system. A society that does not allow others to exist, does not listen to others and ostracizes others is not normal. Text bombs are not spices nor public opinion. It is violence and disaster. It is a criminal act that cannot be justified for any reason.
It is a harmful virus of the digital era to be eradicated for the health of community as much as Covid-19 virus.
Translation by the Korea JoonAng Daily staff.