Calls for anti-hate speech legislation in wake of Sulli’s death

Posted on : 2019-10-18 17:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Suicide of S. Korean entertainer revives issue of real-name posting and anti-discriminatory laws
Demonstrators gather outside the Democratic Party headquarters in Seoul to call for anti-hate speech legislation on Oct. 17. (Kim Myoung-jin
Demonstrators gather outside the Democratic Party headquarters in Seoul to call for anti-hate speech legislation on Oct. 17. (Kim Myoung-jin

Calls to institute a real name system on the internet and prohibit malicious online messages have been growing louder in the wake of the Oct. 14 suicide of actor Sulli (25, birth name Choi Jin-ri), who was frequently targeted by hateful posts on the internet. Politicians are already answering the wave of public opinion with demands to review related laws. But experts insisted that the situation calls for discussions on anti-discrimination legislation regulating hate speech rather than an internet real name system or malicious message prohibition legislation that restricts freedom of expression, which would present serious potential for abuse.

On Oct. 15, a petition titled “Create a Choi Jin-ri law for humane lives” was posted on the Blue House citizens’ petition bulletin board. Its demands included the use of a real name system for posting comments on articles published on major portal sites such as Naver, Daum, and Kakao, along with suspensions for journalists who print articles that violate privacy or include unverified claims. As of 6 pm on Oct. 17, the petition had over 16,000 signatures.

Politicians are also speaking out. In an Oct. 16 statement credited to Spokesperson Kim Jeong-hyeon, Solidarity for Alternative Politics wrote, “The campaign to enact malicious online post prevention legislation that has been underway since the death of singer Sulli is appropriate.”

“An amendment plan has already been presented, yet there have not even been any related discussions in the National Assembly. The relevant standing committee needs to begin a review of the relevant legislation immediately,” the statement insisted.

In 2017, Chang Je-won, a lawmaker with the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), sponsored an amendment to the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, etc. calling for the introduction of a real name system for posts on portal sites and bulletin boards. Park Wan-su, another LKP lawmaker, presented an amendment of the law by the same name, which included stiffer punishments for abusive comments online than those currently prescribed for contempt according to criminal law. Both bills are currently pending in the National Assembly’s Science, ICT, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee.

But in 2012, the Constitutional Court concluded the Information Protection Act’s provisions instituting a real name confirmation system requiring individuals to go through identification procedures to use message boards was unconstitutional, citing potential restrictions on the freedom of expression of socially vulnerable segments as well as serious risks of personal information being leaked. Sung Dong-kyu, a professor at Chung-Ang University’s school of media and communication, explained, “The Constitutional Court’s unconstitutionality decision was based on serious concerns about a potential chilling effect on freedom of expression and the preemptive labeling of numerous internet users as ‘virtual criminals.’”

Observers pointed out the internet real name system’s ineffectiveness. Not only are malicious posts already commonplace on real name-based social media sites such as Facebook, but users can also steal IDs to leave messages. Han Sang-hee, a law professor at Konkuk University, said, “The people who leave malicious messages aren’t concerned about revealing their identity. They think it’s their right.”

“Under the current system in South Korea, you can’t see a person’s name within their post, but in most cases you can track down who left a particular message,” he noted.

In the wake of Sulli’s death, a growing consensus has emerged among women in their 20s and 30s that the kinds of disparaging comments directed at her represent some of the “tacitly accepted aspects of South Korean society” that women of the same generation experience on a daily basis. For that reason, they are saying the bigger focus should be on the phenomenon of anger being expressed.

“The denunciations [of Sulli] for abandoning corsets and bras were clear examples of hate speech,” Han said.

“In hate speech, there are two types of attacks: against the individual, and against the individual’s minority status. Most of the malicious posts were criticisms of Sulli herself, but they also appear to be attacks on the characteristics of womanhood ascribed to her,” he added.

Experts said the discussions should be focused more on enacting anti-discrimination legislation. The problem is that no such legislation has even been presented before the 20th National Assembly. Previous legislation was sponsored by Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Han-kil and others during the 19th National Assembly, but was immediately withdrawn amid protests from conservative Protestants. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has not being holding discussions on anti-discrimination legislation either.

“Sulli’s case is one of someone who suffered from discrimination and hateful remarks both as an entertainer and as a woman,” said Lee Taek-gwang, a professor of global communications at Kyung Hee University.

“We need systems in place for portal sites and media that profit from internet posts to take responsibility for and manage messages, and we need to enact anti-discrimination legislation to promote the attitude that hateful and discriminatory comments should be prohibited,” Lee said.

Hong Sung-su, a law professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, said, “Malicious posts about individuals can be regulated through existing laws on defamation and contempt. But we do need to have a separate legal basis regarding hate speech in cases of disparaging comments toward women in general.”

“We should enact anti-discrimination legislation to establish comprehensive response measures to discrimination and hate,” Hong advised.

By Jeon Gwang-joon, staff reporter

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