Law in the Internet Society

Democracy in the Internet Society

-- By EungyungEileenChoi - 07 Oct 2019

Democracy requires that important decisions are made by the majority. The majority opinion may not always be correct but it is believed that by providing as much information as possible, guaranteeing the freedom of speech, and facilitating discussions, people would reach a consensus that is fairly reasonable and beneficial to the society in general. Also, the democratic process of consuming information, expressing opinions, and participating in debates itself provides an opportunity for the minority voices to be heard and thereby contributes to social integration.

In the internet society, information can be distributed more quickly and wide. Social media and online bulletin boards make it easy for anyone to express opinions and engage in discussions. At the same time, the internet provides direct access to individuals and makes it easier to tamper their opinions.

Candlelight Revolution

In March 2017, President Park was impeached after weeks of protests by thousands of people holding candlelights and requesting her resignation. A tragic marine accident for which Ms. Park could not provide an acceptable response as to her whereabouts during the 'golden time' for rescue, and various wrongdoings by a childhood friend, Ms. Choi, who misused their close relationship to obtain personal benefits were the main causes that triggered the impeachment.

This, however, is not sufficient to explain why Ms. Park was the first president to be impeached when other former presidents had similar histories of abuse of power and corruption. While some argue that the deep-rooted misogyny in Korean society was the cause, it is almost undisputed that the internet played an important role. Through personal broadcasting media, social network service, and instant messengers, news spread quicker and wider as ever, anger was snowballed by affirmative reactions (for example, by high the number of 'likes' to comments criticizing Ms. Park), and protests were organized more easily. Hence, supporters of the impeachment view the impeachment as a true example of the internet promoting democracy and refer to it as the 'Candlelight Revolution'.

King Crab and Cambridge Analytica

However, there are also examples that support a different view. One year after Mr. Moon was elected as the successor of Ms. Park, a man, widely known as 'Duru King', was convicted for manipulating the numbers of 'likes' or 'dislikes' for certain articles or comments using a hacking tool called 'King crab' in order to harm Mr. Moon. Ironically, Duru King confessed that he had initially operated the King crab to support Mr. Moon during his presidential election campaign but switched sides because Mr. Moon rejected Duru King's personal request after the election. Also, since 2004, several politicians from various parties have been convicted for hiring people to distribute fake information through the internet to slander an opposing candidate.

"The Great Hack", a documentary that explains how Cambridge Analytica utilized social media to interfere with the American presidential election and UK's Brexit referendum, shows that opinion manipulation is universal. As shown, big data collected through social media make it possible to target borderline people and bombard them with individually tailored fake information that evokes and amplifies feelings such as fear and hatred until the affected persons, almost in a reflective response, behaves as intended by the manipulating party. While opinion manipulation could be as effective as to reverse an election outcome, it also can sabotage the democratic procedure by merely creating an appearance of unfairness and spreading distrust and disagreement among voters(

New Media, New Laws

Considering its defective effects on democracy, internet regulation should focus on the deterrence of opinion manipulation. As today's opinion manipulation is typically conducted by behavioral targeting and disseminating false information, it would be effective to prohibit those activities. However, such prohibition needs to be carefully constructed.

Behavioral targeting requires the collection and use of personal information. The current regime in many countries including the U.S. and Korea is to require consent from the relevant person. However, this policy is not suited to properly protect privacy rights. First, it is very hard to obtain fully informed consent. It is hard enough to thoroughly disclose every information, usage, and recipient but it is also equally unlikely that an individual will fully understand such disclosure. Second, most information is related to more than one person and consent by one related person cannot be a legitimate basis for collecting and using information that is also related to another person but it is impossible to obtain consent from every related person in every instance. Therefore, instead of requiring consent, the law should restrict the collection and use of personal information to the minimum extent necessary to provide services to the person that requested such service.

Prohibiting the dissemination of false information bears an inherent risk of infringing freedom of speech. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to receive and impart information through any medium including the internet. Both U.S. and South Korean courts have found that even false speech (at least under certain circumstances) is protected under the freedom of speech. See, United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. 709, 132 S. Ct. 2537 (2012); Korean Constitutional Court, Dec. 28, 2010, 2008Hunba157. In addition, a restriction on political speech is subject to strict scrutiny in the U.S. See, McIntyre? v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U.S. 334, 115 S. Ct. 1511 (1995). However, even freedom of political speech is not without limits and thus, a carefully designed restriction could survive strict scrutiny. In this regard, it should be considered that false statements of facts have less value for "they interfere with the truth-seeking function of the marketplace of ideas", see dissenting opinion in Alvarez, 567 U.S. at 746. Moreover, since the very reason we protect freedom of speech is to preserve democracy, if a certain type of speech is so destructive that it threatens the integrity of the democratic procedure, there is no legitimate reason to protect such harmful speech.


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r13 - 25 Feb 2020 - 06:24:51 - EungyungEileenChoi
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