Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book ends of free speech

On one end we have the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression in town speaking at Yonsei University (Go, Eagles!) about official curbs on Internet freedom in South Korea (as well as other ways in which free speech is stifled), and even supposedly being spied on and tailed in the process.

And on the other end we have what some would call "free speech" run amok, the very need to have curbs and checks (at least identity checks) on what speech appears on the Internet, among other places:
Within hours, the student became the target of an Internet-based witch hunt. Photos of a female student and her address on a local social networking site spread on the Web, but the university said the hunters identified the wrong female.
While some find it chilling that the government would try to require real names be used for Internet activities (if not on-screen, at least at registration), particularly when it comes to whistle-blowing or expressing ideas critical of the government or Korea Inc, others point out that such behavior as in the second case are allowed to occur because of the lack of accountability by anonymous users in online forums.

Frankly, I haven't talked too much about these issues because I'm sympathetic to both sides. As a blogger, I don't like feeling that there may be certain topics I cannot broach without offending someone who may try to come down on me, but as someone who has been physically threatened several times* (not weekly like some people), has had his email hacked into repeatedly by online foes, and has had people who don't like what he writes trying to hurt him in the real world with smear campaigns aimed at getting him to lose his funding, academic standing, and even livelihood, I sometimes long for a world where people can't launch such vicious attacks from the comfort of anonymity.

* includes a White uber-Korea apologist named Gary, several first-generation kyopo, and at least one rabid English teacher named Scott

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