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Social Networking Sites Sowing Seeds of Dispute

Posted October. 20, 2010 11:44,   


Twitter, the U.S.-based social networking site that is enjoying explosive popularity in Korea, has ignited a series of legal disputes.

Courts have fined those convicted of election campaign violations by using Twitter ahead of the June 2 local elections.

On Oct. 13, the Seoul High Court upheld a lower court’s fine of 700,000 won (621 U.S. dollars) for a 51-year-old man who violated election law. He posted on his blog the results of an opinion poll on candidates for Seoul mayor originally posted on Twitter.

A 52-year-ol Twitter user was also fined 1.2 million won (1,065 dollars) for “retweeting” to some 200 followers a Twitter message supporting a candidate for superintendent of the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education. The ruling considered the Internet’s rapid distribution of information and easy public access.

With Twitter emerging as a major public relations tool over the campaign period, the National Election Commission partially restricted its use for campaign purposes. The appropriate level of regulation is a source of contention, however.

Park Kyung-sin, a law professor at Korea University, said, “There is plenty of room for controversy because regulating communication through Twitter is the same as blocking its use, considering that Twitter is open and as volatile as words.”

Sending libelous messages against a person or people is even riskier because the law stipulates more severe punishment for Internet libel. An online war of words between a TV anchorwoman and a Twitter user will escalate into a legal battle after the anchorwoman said she will take the matter to court.

KBS sued comedienne Kim Mi-hwa for libel after she wrote in a Twitter message that she could not appear on TV because the state-run network blacklisted her.

In addition, phony Twitter accounts have been opened in the names of leading politicians such as President Lee Myung-bak and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and under the names of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

The government, however, has no way of regulating phony Twitter accounts because the site allows users to open them without undergoing an identification process. Barring clear evidence proving damage, it is hard to seek criminal punishment for those opening fake or bogus accounts.

Nevertheless, voices in the legal sector say it is possible to file civil lawsuits seeking the shutdown of such Twitter accounts, citing the precedent of litigation on disputes over Internet domain names. In the U.S., corporations and celebrities have won libel or copyright infringement suits against those who used their names without authorization.