YouTube has decided to cripple its Korean site rather than comply with a new law which would force it to publish the real names of all contributors and commenters on the site.
An amendment to a “cyber-defamation” law recently went into effect, requiring websites which have more than 100,000 unique users per day to list their real names and national identification card numbers.
What prevents users from falsely supplying these is not clear, but sites have no choice but to comply.
In response to the law, YouTube Korea, in consultation with Google, its US-based parent company, has disabled the ability of its Korean user base to upload videos or make comments on existing videos.
YouTube Korea in its current form can now only be viewed, but not interacted with, by its primary user base. It seems likely that this will pose problems to the growth in Korean language content on the site.
Google justified the maiming of its Korean site by citing its selectively applied “Do no evil” principles. Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice president of public affairs, posted the following justification on Google’s Korean blog:
Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the Internet. We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to Internet users while observing this country’s law because the law does not fall in line with Google’s principles.
Google’s adherence to its principles runs directly contrary to the intent of the cyber-defamation legislation. The law’s proponents have argued that removing anonymity would curtail much of the savagery springing from the Korean Internet community.
Korean Internet users have a well deserved reputation for thuggish behavior. Numerous and well publicized incidents of mass cyber bullying have lead to real life confrontations, loss of reputation and significant financial losses for their victims.
The most egregious incident led to the suicide of famed actress Choi Jin-sil. Choi was apparently driven to suicide after a series of online rumors viciously attacked the actress’ financial dealings and character.
At times this aggressive online character also spills out onto overseas sites, typically motivated by nationalist indignation.
Korean reactions to the changes made by YouTube have been mostly indifferent. Google itself publicized a workaround where a Korean user could switch their preference setting to a country other than Korea, bypassing the limits set within the Korean site.
Also, Koreans accessing the site outside of Korea and non-Koreans (assuming they do not use the Korean language version) living in Korea have not been affected.
Unlike its presence in the West, YouTube Korea has a much smaller profile, so such a muted reaction is not altogether unexpected.
The application of the cyber defamation law seems rather uneven. Popular game forums such as those belonging to Korea’s World of Warcraft, which presumably falls under the amended legislation, still allows for the use of anonymous Internet pseudonyms.