Internet opens channel for citizen? voiceInternet users are expected to wield significant influence in drawing up policies of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The presidential transition team has opened a citizen participation center compiling policy proposals and personnel recommendation for president-elect Roh's new cabinet.
Ideas have come in via Internet, fax, mail and walk-in visit. It is the first time a South Korean government has established a direct link to the people, and the transition team says the public recommendations will be accorded due weight as decisions are made.
By Saturday, the center had received recommendations for 18 cabinet ministers and Blue House senior secretaries. Of the 5,415 proposals, 4,466 were received online. To guard against abuse of the system, users were required to list their social security number, address and occupation.
Mr. Roh says that during his presidency he will operate a similar body to measure public sentiment, monitor corruption and promote reform programs. He named Park Joo-hyun, a lawyer and civic activist, to lead the operation.
The ostensible purpose of such moves is to democratize decision-making. But there are risks to taking Internet postings as the voice of the people, experts say. They cite abuses of Internet anonymity ranging from foul language to online deceit.
It was in the cyber world that Korea? 2030 generation -- consisting of people in their 20s and 30s who had been considered political outsiders -- gained confidence in their ability to convene and express their thoughts. Over the past year, they mobilized nationwide cheering rallies during the soccer World Cup and candlelight memorial services for the two girls killed by the U.S. military vehicle.
The Internet is mainly frequented by the younger generation. According to a survey by the Korea Network Information Center, 86 percent of people in their 20s log onto the Internet every day. The figure is 67 percent for those in their 30s and just 39 percent for those in their 40s.
Organizing the cabinet, however, appears not to be the preoccupation of the younger generation. The transition team reported Monday that just 4.1 percent of its recommendations came from people in their 20s and 16 percent by those in their 30s. The next three decades contributed 31 percent, 26 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
"I presume that 30 out of 1,000 people in their 20s and 30s were committed to raising their voices in organizing the cabinet, but 70 out of 1,000 in their 40s and 50s were committed,” said Chung Tai-myoung, professor of information communication at Sungkyunkwan University. “The younger generation is interested in the Internet, but not in naming ministers.”
Earlier this month Internet postings drove the presidential transition team to make a choice that took major media companies by storm. The transition team asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to investigate the decision by the Fair Trade Commission to waive penalties levied on media outlets for alleged illegal business practices. The transition team’s spokesman Jung Soon-kyun said it had requested the probe because of the demands of Internet users.
But some critics question whether the notices posted on online bulletin boards properly represent public sentiment.
“Implementation of public opinion would likely turn into populism, but policies should be drawn up by experts after careful consideration,” said Kim Young-seok, president of the Graduate School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Yonsei University.
“There is no way to prevent junk comments from being posted on the bulletin board ― it is so easy to misconstrue facts and spread falsehood in the Internet,” added Sungkyun-kwan’s Mr. Chung.
Unverified reports posted on the Internet can have unforeseen consequences. A list categorizing Millennium Democratic Party lawmakers as “meritorious subjects” or “traitors” based on their contributions to Mr. Roh’s election campaign ruffled feathers within the party. The list was posted anonymously on Mr. Roh’s Web site (www. knowhow.or.kr). The list provided detailed explanations for each lawmaker’s classification.
MDP executives are reportedly seeking to bring the case to the police. Saying, “Anonymous terrorism in the cyberworld is serious,” Chung Kyun-hwan, the MDP floor leader, said yesterday that the list maker must be unveiled. The list rated him worst of all “traitors.”
Many Internet users were angered this month to find that the originator of the candlelight ceremonies for the two Korean girls killed last summer, touted his rally proposals on the OhmyNews online news service. Kim Gi-boh, a private institute lecturer and an amateur reporter for OhmyNews, reported on Nov. 27 that he had found the candlelight vigil proposal posted by a user known as “Angma” (devil). OhmyNews, known for its advocacy stances, hires some 10,000 amateur reporters in addition to its full-time staff. Mr. Kim’s report triggered the nationwide vigils and he became an instant celebrity. After another Internet user discovered that the originator of the vigils and the amateur reporter were the same person OhmyNews and Mr. Kim apologized.
Cloaked in the anonymity of the web, users frequently post emotional and one-sided notices on Internet bulletin boards that can inflict severe damage on individual persons. Last month, a television news announcer, Hwang Jeong-min, was hounded off a Korea Broadcasting System program after she made a slip, saying that anti-American rallies made her feel “ashamed.” She tried to explain that she meant she had been ashamed of the standoff between demonstrators and riot police, but Internet sites were filled with angry denunciations of her. Whether these users represented the public remains questionable, but broadcasting companies rely heavily on feedback posted on the Internet.
It’s because they consider viewers who take the trouble to post such notices as the most loyal ones, Mr. Chung said. “And sometimes they just want peace by complying with the demands of vociferous people.”
The language used by nonfans of entertainers is often abusive. The Internet bulletin board of Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation’s entertainment program is a crossfire of messages for and against Sung Yuri, a member of the girl-group FIN.K.L. and the show hostess. In foul language, postings deride her voice as weak and complain that she ruins the show. Ms. Sung’s defenders are equally vociferous.
Some users are trying to abolish the online use of abusive words or obscene materials. Major portals such as sayclub.com, daum.net and freechal.com are hitting violators with penalties ranging from a10-minute suspension to permanent removal from the portal site. These portals hire workers around the clock to oversee the bulletin boards.
Sungkyunkwan’s Mr. Chung said it is up to the mature, considerate Internet users to prevent its bad influence.
by Koh Han-sun