Tough content rules mute Internet election activity in current contest

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Tough content rules mute Internet election activity in current contest

WEB: Bloggers risk arrest for controversial comments

Korea saw the decisive role the Internet could play in politics in the 2002 presidential election. When Nosamo, a group supporting then- presidential hopeful Roh Moo-hyun, effectively used the Internet to capture the interest of young voters, a star was born overnight. By pushing aside veteran politicians, Roh Moo-hyun, a relatively young candidate who never went to college, became the 10th president of the republic.
After 2002, many seers predicted that the 2007 presidential election would be even more high-tech than the previous one. With an increasing number of bloggers and a greater volume of user-created content on the Web, the media and observers expected the 2007 election to provide another example of the power of the Internet in politics. Some even dubbed it the “Year of the UCC election” or the “Year of the blog.”
It hasn’t turned out that way. Experts say that harsh rules on Internet campaigning and a lack of political sophistication on the part of bloggers have combined to mute the impact of the Internet, even in intensely wired Korea.
“Almost every candidate has a well-prepared Internet campaign, but I don’t think the infrastructure is politically mature enough to have a ‘blog election’ or a ‘UCC election,’” Yoon Young-tae, an official from the Democratic Labor Party, said.
“Many people thought that blogs and user content would play a key role in this election, but it’s hard to find bloggers who have a deep understanding of conservative, progressive and neutral forces. Harsh censorship by the National Election Commission also discourages many Internet users and bloggers,” Yoon added.
Presidential candidates certainly wanted to conquer cyberspace. Leading candidate Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party even established a campaign headquarters in Second Life, an Internet-based virtual world that has more than 2.3 million users worldwide.
“One of Lee’s primary campaign promises is to help newlyweds buy a house, so we’re handing out free houses to newlywed avatars,” an official from Lee’s camp said of the Second Life effort.
“We’re also considering the construction of a cross-country canal project in Second Life,” the official added. The construction of a canal across the peninsula is Lee’s central campaign promise.
When asked why Lee’s camp decided to set up a Second Life campaign, given that the site is not well-known in Korea, the official said, “We wanted to give voters the impression that Lee is on the cutting edge.”
Lee’s camp is also running a couple of blogs, and Lee has held private meetings with key bloggers, according to the camp.
Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party is also running a blog, “Play Talk.”
Unlike many other blogs, users are allowed to leave short instant messages on Play Talk. Other than that, Chung’s camp runs a couple of blogs where Chung’s political backers discuss the election.
Other candidates, including independent conservative challenger Lee Hoi-chang, Kwon Young-ghil of the Democratic Labor Party and Moon Kook-hyun of the Creative Korea Party, also have blogs that provide detailed schedules of campaign appearances, bio sketches, platforms and slogans.
But the rules for user-generated content are tough. The National Election Commission says that postings supporting or opposing certain candidates are essentially off limits.
Some postings have even been deleted by the commission from portal sites, which are relatively easy to control in Korea because they are in the Korean language.
“Under the circumstances, who wants to express his or her opinion on politics? Internet users are not allowed to criticize candidates, therefore it’s hard to find much creative election-related content. The spirit of UCC is meant to criticize or satirize, but if it loses its edge, nobody wants to watch it,” Yoon said.
“The nation’s Internet portals, including Naver, are not doing much to encourage Internet users to talk about politics in cyberspace. That’s because they don’t want to take responsibility for troublesome political comments. What they do is just sit back and make money from online banner advertisements for presidential candidates,” Yoon added.
Kim Ji-hye, a representative of the Moon Kook-hyun camp, was also critical of the role of the Internet in 2007.
“Given the heavy restrictions, Internet users don’t produce creative and spontaneous content,” Kim said.
“I also have the feeling that Naver and other portals are trying not to include election-related content on their homepages. Naver is doing a kind of interactive survey with Internet users about the 12 presidential candidates, but the number of hits has been pretty low,” Kim added.
Kim Yeon-soo, a college student who was recently investigated by the police because of his election-related postings, said the 2007 presidential election cannot be called an “Internet election.”
“I was trying to analyze who Lee Myung-bak is. What I did was research Lee-related news stories and use his quotes to show what kind of person he is. But the Grand National Party accused me of creating election-related content, and I was questioned [by police] for about five hours on Nov. 12,” Kim said.
Kim’s posting, “Is Lee Myung-bak eligible to become president?” created a stir among Internet users and quickly spread across blogs and Web sites.
He posted remarks by Lee and pictures to allegedly demonstrate Lee’s involvement in the BBK fraud scandal.
Some bloggers who disseminated Kim’s content across the Internet were also questioned by police.
“We bloggers are not allowed to make our voices heard. We’re being cowed,” Kim said.

By Sung So-young Staff Reporter
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