The Ministry of Information and Communication introduced a new law to force Korean Internet users to identify themselves by their real names when posting comments on Korean electronic forums.
This rule was implemented at the two largest Korean portal websites on July 1st 2007 Naver and Daum and has, just this week, been applied to 21 more sites with more than 300,000 visitors per day. All users have to enter their names and resident registration numbers when using the service to post comments. The law was proposed to try to prevent the increasing spread of anti social and abusive comments being made by portal users.
However, as the Korea Times reported yesterday, it seems these measures have not been entirely successful. The hostage crisis in Afghanistan has given rise to a number of offensive postings by some Koreans. "Terrible postings continue to inundate our news pages or bulletin boards." Daum spokeswoman Jody Chung said to the Korea Times reporter.
Now, I don't know exactly how Naver and Daum work, but they are commercial enterprises out to make money. When one signs up to use their services I assume there are some 'Terms and Conditions' (T&C) that one agrees to. I have joined a number of similar forums in the past and in all cases there has been some sort of clause about undesirable behaviour on the forum that would cause the account to be closed by the forum moderators. For example I have belonged to the CIX conferencing system for many years and the 'Acceptable Use Policy' is quite clear that I could be thrown off for posting indecent, obscene, offensive, abusive, disruptive,libellous or defamatory comments.
So what is the situation with these undesirable postings on the Korean portals? It seems these users have not had their accounts closed and they continue to upset the rest of the portal users with their remarks. Are the portal T&Cs not specific enough? They need to rewrite them. Are these posts only offensive to some? In that case maybe the portals need to be enhanced to allow the functionality of a killfile whereby you can setup a list of users whose posts you do not wish to see.
With the requirement to enter one's registration number it would be straightforward for Daum and Naver to build up a blacklist of users that have been banned. These users can then move on to the other sites, that have not been forced to implement the requirement yet, and spread their undesirable opinions to a smaller crowd.
The pros and cons of the right to free speech and censorship are some of the biggest topics for discussion on the Internet where anyone can spout their opinions to the world from behind a keyboard. As the ministry has discovered, just trying to prevent anonymous postings does not really solve the problem.
Related reading : Nameless in Cyberspace. An 8 page paper from the Cato Institute on proposals by the Supreme Court to limit anonymous communications on the Internet.
Free Speech and the Internet Links to websites that concern themselves with the issue of the free flow of information on the Internet.
People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. A Civil organization dedicated to promoting justice and human rights in Korean society through the participation of the people. They are strongly against the real-name validation scheme.