South Korean's crackdown on online libel draws fire

South Korean's crackdown on online libel draws fire

Concerns about greater state control over public opinion are growing as the prosecution is pushing to toughen its crackdown on those who spread false accusations online.

Saying that state intervention in online discourse should be minimized, critics argued that the prosecutorial campaign could seriously restrain online commentators' freedom of speech and expression.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office and relevant government agencies including the National Police Agency agreed to take "proactive" measures to prevent the spread of false and malicious postings on major portal websites.

They have decided to form a special probe team including five prosecutors with ample investigation experience. Under the new measures, the team will employ a zero-tolerance policy against those who defame others with groundless accusations.

If one causes a serious social controversy through false accusations and rumours, he or she will reportedly be detained while under investigation. Those who either create or relay false accusations will be punished.

The plan to institute the investigative team was announced just two days after President Park Geun-hye blasted malicious online commentators during a Cabinet meeting. Referring to online insults against her, she said defamatory postings would divide the public and damage social cohesion.

Observers said that the prosecution should take a "cautious, prudent" approach to its intervention in cyberspace.

"Basically, state intervention or interference should remain minimal with regard to people's expression of opinions and thoughts. Of course, there may be room for the state to step in when it comes to a serious case that damages one's reputation too seriously," said Yoon Pyung-joong, political philosophy professor at Hanshin University.

"(The prosecution) should remain cautious with its crackdown. Rather than pushing for a wholesale crackdown on what appear to be groundless accusations, it needs to take a prudent case-by-case approach."

Following the announcement of a crackdown, social media users started to accuse the government of attempting to control public opinion, and to look for safer foreign services to ensure their freedom of expression.

Some Korean social media users considered stopping using Kakao Talk, the nation's largest mobile messenger, and switched to Telegram, a Russian messaging application that cannot be accessed by state authorities.

Telegram was created to avoid the tight monitoring of the Russian security authorities. Whatever was talked about on it is not stored in the main servers and is strictly encrypted, which makes it difficult for outsiders to covertly monitor the content of messages.

As concerns rise over the tighter control of online chats, the prosecution stressed that its stricter crackdown only targeted "serious" online defamation cases, not regularpostings on the Internet. It also said that it would be impossible for it to deal with comments on social media.

Some, however, noted that there should be a deeper state involvement to stop the creation and distribution of ill-intentioned, untruthful online postings. In particular, false online rumours surrounding the sinking of the ferry Sewol caused social confusion earlier this year.

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.