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[Editorial] Acquittal Hardly Absolves ‘Minerva Phenomenon’

[Editorial] Acquittal Hardly Absolves ‘Minerva Phenomenon’

Posted April. 21, 2009 06:39,   


The Seoul Central District Court found a man charged with being the online economic oracle “Minerva” not guilty of spreading false information. “Park” had been arrested on the charge of violating telecommunications law for allegedly circulating false rumors on government policy over the Internet. The ruling admitted as groundless his articles claiming that foreign exchange operations would come to a halt Aug. 1 last year and that the government sent letters to companies asking not to buy dollars. The court, however, said, “It was difficult for Park to recognize those rumors as false, and even if he did, we cannot see him having had intent to harm the public interest.”

Article 47 of the Telecommunications Act, which was applied to Park’s case, requires “intent to harm public interest” and “recognition as false information” to find a defendant guilty of an offense. The criminal probe could have been inadequate or prosecutors could have attempted to interpret the law too broadly. Prosecutors immediately announced plans to file an appeal, with one saying, “The court misunderstood facts and the false information by picking the wrong evidence, and mistakenly applied legal reasoning on harming the public interest.” It remains to be seen how an appellate court will rule given the lack of sufficient cases of precedents on Article 47.

The ruling has made it necessary for Korean society to discuss measures to crack down on anti-social behavior in cyberspace and the limitations of such measures. The act, which was enacted in the 1990s, fails to adequately reflect the negative effects of the Internet in tune with the development of new technology to a certain extent.

The Minerva incident and candlelight vigils showed without reservation the negative aspects of the Internet. Nevertheless, the act says people who circulate false information on the Internet can be punished only if they had the intent to harm the public interest. If laws cannot punish those who have caused huge damage to the country by spreading false information by hiding behind the Internet’s anonymity, the country must consider revision of laws or legislation of new laws.

Minerva was an unidentified Web user who posted provocative comments by copying and pasting unverified information or data circulating in the Internet. Certain experts joined Web users in making Minerva, who lacks professional knowledge, as an “economic president.” Other forces exploited his articles to sway the government’s economic policies aimed at overcoming the economic crisis. The Minerva incident demonstrates the negative functions of the Internet and how vulnerable Korean society is to propaganda.

The ruling is simply an only legal judgment on Minerva’s individual behavior, and hardly legitimizes the Minerva phenomenon in any way. It is wrong for groups to try to overly interpret the not-guilty verdict and ignore efforts to correct social ills stemming from posting false rumors on the Internet.