A college student, Younghee, turned on her computer only to find out that her hobby, uploading video files to YouTube is no longer possible, since YouTube refused to adhere to the real-name system on its Korean portal sites.
* This Opinion article was written by Korea University (KU) student outside of The Granite Tower (GT).
On April 23, the Constitutional Court of Korea unanimously ruled that the Internet real-name system was unconstitutional, which dispensed the system into the Internet history after a long-lasting debate. Many people who agreed to the real-name system expressed their concerns about this decision, arguing that the Internet, now armed with anonymity, is going to be nothing but lawless territory where even the good turns into the bad and hurts others. However, whether the Internet deserves such a bad reputation is questionable.
Is anonymity on the Internet really like a magic potion that transforms people into bullies? Absolutely not. Rather, it is more like an outlet for stress. Think of the role that drinking parties play in Korea. With all the pressure after a full day’s work, people go drinking. There, they are given the opportunity to feel free from social obligations they must ordinarily deal with and recharge themselves so they can survive another day. The same goes for the Internet. Hiding behind the mask of anonymity, people escape from social conventions constraining them and discharge the dregs of negative feelings that might otherwise pile up in their minds and lower the quality of life. Thus, anonymous Internet spaces can serve as a toilet into which we excrete what’s bad inside our minds.
Nevertheless, though anonymity is indeed guaranteed, the Internet is not as lawless as those who have never spent much time there might think. In any place where people congregate and communicate, there emerges a set of rules. Even “DC Inside,” a website notorious for its posters’ use of vulgar language, has rules its users abide by. However harshly they may comment, they do not forget to call other users “brother” and always attach a photo when they post a question. If a user is unfamiliar with these unwritten laws and doesn’t know how to address other users, this newbie is highly likely to be laughed at. If a user asking a question does not post a photo, no one will bother to answer the question. Likewise, users spontaneously observe certain rules which kick out the users who do not observe the rules from the Internet community. There exists a certain set of rules within Internet communities that enables them to maintain order, just like offline societies.
Aside from the two points, whether the Internet real-name system is effective in achieving its goal is another question. As the Constitutional Court pointed out, the real-name system proved to be ineffective in reducing the number of abusive comments. It also encouraged a cyber-asylum –– when YouTube stopped users from uploading via its Korean portal site, in response to the request of Korea Communications Commission that Korean users must provide their real name and national ID card number, Korean users continued uploading and commenting by just switching their preference setting to a country other than Korea. As a result, the government failed to root out abusive comments and maintain Internet civility.
The Internet is a double-edged sword. Even though it provides people with entertainment and is self-controlling themselves to the agreements among its users, it is true that its anonymity has hurt many people. This problem, however, cannot be solved by the real-name system. It is not the Internet, but the users that need to change. Along with the Internet education in school and allocation of professional clinicians, individual users should realize that it is their duty to keep the Internet society civilized if they are to enjoy the freedom to be anonymous.