More and more S. Koreans going into “cyber exile”

Posted on : 2014-10-07 16:51 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Due to concerns over monitoring of instant messaging, many are using overseas instant messaging apps

By Song Ho-kyun and Jung Hwan-bong, staff reporters

“Welcome to exile.”

It’s become a common greeting for the South Korean “cyber-exiles” who have recently defected to the German messaging service Telegram due to social media censorship concerns. The wry welcome reflects a feature the service shares with other mobile messengers: a message that goes out to already subscribed contacts about the new sign-up.

Telegram is now being increasingly adopted not just by ordinary internet users troubled by online censorship, but by people in jobs dealing with sensitive information, including lawmakers and their aides, lawyers, and reporters. Joining them are a surprising number of prosecutors, police officers, and other employees of investigative agencies.

Their reasons for signing up are varied.

“I signed up half out of curiosity, half out of concern [about South Korean services],” said a team director at one Seoul police station.

“They [the South Korean services] have group chat rooms with a lot of people I don’t know, and if one of them is under investigation, someone could see the things I write,” the team director explained.

In some cases, Telegram is being adopted specifically for work purposes.

“The lawmakers’ offices have often used group chat rooms on Kakao Talk, but now they’re changing to Telegram,” said the secretary of one New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker.

“I know that with the domestic messengers, [investigators] still need to get a court warrant before they can collect any information, but you work with a lot of sensitive information when you’re with a lawmaker’s office, and I just feel better with Telegram and its tight security,” the secretary added.

Some users who have installed the service have yet to use it.

“I looked at the list of friends on Telegram and saw a lot of people with similar politics to mine,” said a 38-year-old company employee surnamed Park. “For me, it’s more about looking and seeing, ‘Oh, they’re as nervous as I am.’ But I usually just use my old domestic messenger.”

A 24-year-old university student surnamed Kang shared a similar story.

“I installed it just out of curiosity, but I don’t have a lot of friends on there yet, so I’m not sure how often I‘ll use it,” Kang said. “The design is simply and there aren’t a lot of features -- it‘s kind of dull.”

Experts have been cautious with their predictions about the cyber-exile phenomenon’s spread.

“I think we can expect to keep seeing an exodus from intellectuals who are sensitive about security, but we‘re not really seeing an exodus from the young people who are the main messenger users,” said Storydot president and social media expert Yoo Seung-chan.

“We’re going to have wait a while to see if Telegram grows in popularity,” he added.

Yoo’s advice to local businesses hoping to stop the overseas messaging flight?

“Stop being passive and acting like you have no choice about complying with investigators’ requests. Show that you’re proactive about protecting personal information,” he said.

Song Kyung-jae, a professor at the Kyung Hee University Institute for Human Society, predicted that the public “may be slow to adopt Telegram if it turns into a place that’s mainly used by intellectuals with a lot of access to information.”

According to, which collects data on app downloads, 1.07 million South Koreans downloaded Telegram’s English version between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4. 305,000 users downloaded the unofficial Korean version.

On Oct. 2, Telegram tweeted from their official account, “Any Korean linguists/pro translators/language geeks out there? We could use help with the Korean version!”

On Oct. 6 they tweeted that they would soon release an official Korean version.


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