The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Namhee Hong, Kiheon Kang: New Censorship and Economic Governmentality by Platforms in South Korea Since 2008

Nam-hee Hong, Yonsei Communication Research Center

Ki-heon Kang, JoongAng Daily Newspaper

A noticeable phenomenon in South Korea since 2008, during which the conservative party came into power, is the governance through individual media, such as smartphones and SNS. Similar cases have been observed outside of South Korea. The recent uproar over the FBI’s request for a backdoor to Apple Inc. is just one example. Many states around the world have demanded personal data from the private sector in the wake of social crises.

Moreover, it has been revealed by the whistleblower Snowden that NSA is collecting personal data from platforms such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. Based on these cases, this paper offers a critical perspective on governing of individuals by the state through technology and platform companies. New censorship is used as an umbrella term for the aforementioned cases, and the process of new censorship is investigated in the context of economic governmentality proposed by Foucault(1977-78). In particular, the separate ruling of individuals via platforms reduces the people’s resistance and functions as a more discreet form of state governmentality. In this paper, the term ‘economic’means both effective and private. In other words, economic governance introduces laws of economy (market area) for the state to govern and assigns a function to the market as an infrastructure of governance. Several cases of new censorship are analyzed and theorized from a critical point of view. Especially, we discuss about 'temporary measures' in South Korea by Korean Communications Standards Commission through platform businesses.

In most democratic countries, censorship is prohibited by the law. Censorship mainly refers to prior restraint by national authorities. However, although this formal definition of censorship is clear and distinct, it restricts the meaning of censorship at the same time. According to this definition, the term only holds if the legal definition of censorship is met and individual expression is withheld. There has been a surge of censorship through technology and platforms, which do not adhere to the legal definition of censorship. In addition, indirect regulation through technology or platform companies causes little resistance because the ways of operation are less obvious for the average citizen.

In South Korea, censorship through platforms is not unique to contemporary times. This phenomenon began since the early days of the Internet, with the Korea Internet Safety Commission establishing regulations on ‘rebellious communication.’In the 1990s, administrative authorities regulated specific expressions such as political expressions, speeches related to North Korea and obscenities. This kind of censorship targeting ""rebellious content"" began with former president Park Chung-hee-father of current President Park Geun-hye-under the pretext of ‘private autonomy.’This regulation was accomplished through Internet network operators and Internet service providers. These provisions were declared unconstitutional in 2001. However, the Korean Communications Standards Commission has continued monitoring ‘illegal’communication since 2008.

Of course, the current regulation has served to counter the dark side of Korea’s explosive growth on the IT industry and users. The internet media in Korea has many negative features, as can be seen from the ‘dog shit case’of 2005, which involved the invasion of privacy of specific individuals by netizens. Due to the rigidity and time delay of formal process in protecting the victims of cyber witch hunts, most people feel that temporary measures may be necessary to delete or block concrete information on portal sites such as Naver and Daum.

However, the problem is that such temporary measures are being used to blocking legitimate political expressions made by citizens after the rise of conservative political power. This can be traced to a lack of understanding about new media and intolerance of critical expressions concerning politicians and president in South Korea. The recent filibuster against the Anti-Terrorism Act supported by the conservative party extended debate on the authorities’right to retrieve personal information or financial data of ‘dangerous’individuals. This debate over ‘dangerous’individuals has resulted in the political opposition earning the label of ‘North Korean followers.’With this, the state is entering a ‘state of exception.’In addition, the growing menace of global terrorism was cited, with vested interest, as a reason to establish the Anti-Terrorism Act. Despite the negative track record of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) uncovered, such as interventions in the presidential election, framing up a spy scandal and purchasing hacking programs from Italy, the conservative party still continues to grant excessive power to the NIS. We are aware that the NIS has purchased tools of surveillance for ordinary citizens and is manipulating public opinion. Here, we can raise some questions. Why is the issue new media? Is it true that the popularization of personal media has led to the emergence of a broad surveillance society? Also, are such surveillance and censorship exercised through technology and the private business sector?

Against this backdrop, this study conducts a case analysis of temporary measures implemented since 2008. Through this analysis, we want to demonstrate that the state is blocking out damaging information. The research questions are as follows. First, what information does the state wish to block? Second, what are the ways of operation involved in implementing temporary measures? How does information control work through platforms? Third, what is the meaning behind temporary measure? In other words, what is the significance of state regulation of the internet through platform businesses?

In line with a variety of measures restricting freedom of expression in South Korea, this paper seeks to explore the significance of related state operations by analyzing how censorship is exercised through technology and the platforms (private sector).

Namhee Hong, Kiheon Kang