FIELD BLOG SUBSCRIBE TO RSS
A Tale of Two KoreasPosted by: intermedia on Wed, 2009-10-14 09:55
By Nathaniel Kretchun
East Asia Project Manager, InterMedia
As one of the most connected societies on earth, South Korea is ahead of the curve internationally in tackling many issues related to new media and internet accountability that all societies will face as they further embrace new technology. On my most recent trip to Seoul, the issue of the hour seemed to be the mandated use of real names on internet discussion boards.
While I sat outside the Kangnam subway station in downtown Seoul waiting for a friend, I was approached by a group of young college students conducting an informal survey of the sweaty masses flowing in and out of the station. Before I had time to ask, I was presented with a small smiley-face sticker and given a short explanation of their research project.
On a large white poster board the students had written the words “Real names required for internet use” and below that constructed a scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The irony that these students were spending their Saturday doing – albeit in a somewhat less scientific way – the very same thing I was in Korea to do was not lost on me.
As I debated where exactly I should cast my smiley-faced vote, the students peppered me with questions about the issue’s saliency in the U.S. Due largely to a culture that prizes the right to privacy, the issue is at most a marginal one there.
However, that this group of chipper young researchers had chosen online accountability as the topic of their project, and that everyone around me seemed to have already made up their mind on the issue as they so sure-handedly placed their smiley-faces, seemed a clear indication that this was a very hot topic here. Though it has received relatively little play in the Western media, in April 2009 the debate of internet anonymity in South Korea culminated in a law requiring the use of registered real names for all those who wished to post comments or content on sites with more the 100,000 visitors per day.
Yet even as South Korea is helping to shape the debate surrounding the responsible use of new technology, just 50 kilometers north of the bustling technological metropolis of Seoul, access to media and outside information is only now moving out of the cold war era. Although VCD and DVD players are making their way in to North Korea from China in ever increasing numbers and South Korean dramas are providing a glimpse of what life is like for those south of the DMZ, perhaps the most common and reliable source of outside information in North Korea remains shortwave radio. Even though the North Korean government has taken notice of these broadcasts and made some effort at jamming their signals, the proliferation of broadcasts and the regime's inability to prevent its citizens from tuning in suggest that SW radio will continue to be an important means for getting outside information into the world’s most closed society.