Tell Me Your Real Name: Korea’s Real-Name Verification Policy

In April 2011, Freedom House, international human rights NGO, published the report about freedom on internet and digital media. In the report, they describe South Korea as “partly free country”. They states that South Korea’s internet infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, and its democratic institutions, however Real-Name verification policy and a recent series of arrests of bloggers have presented challenges to internet freedom. UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, also concerns regarding Real-Name verification that “clearly qualifies as pre-censorship, restricts freedom of internet-based expression rooted in anonymity, inhibits public opinion formation, and contravenes freedom of expression.”

Real-Name verification policy refers process of website registration that asks users to verify their real-world identity before making user content on the web – especially comments and posting. Users won’t be required to use their real names as their IDs, but still they have to verify their particular online ID is mapped onto their real name and Resident Registration Number (RRN) of 13-digit number. Surely, this policy has been criticized regarding freedom of speech on the Internet and infringement of intellectual freedom.

At first, Real-Name verification policy adapted to the amendment of Public Official Election Act in 2004. The policy targeted preventing widespread cyberbullying in postings and comments of election-related online discussion forum. However, New conservative government, President Lee Myoung-bak administration suffered from candlelight protest and massive Anti-Government opinions from online. The government decided their way to extend the range of real-name registration policy to apply any website with more than 100,000 visitors per day in 2009. Hundred and fifty three of local and global operated websites were concerned including Google’s YouTube.

However, Google officially had decided to refuse it. Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Google said, “Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet.” He continued to say “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.” As a matter of fact, Google had no choice but to find a way to refuse compliance with the Real-Name Verification in order to maintain their corporate universal access to information for all users, and services it provides worldwide.

Social Network also makes Real-Name Verification policy useless. Many websites started adopting social API function also called ‘Social comments’. Social comments allow leave users comments with login status of social network like Twitter or Facebook without website’s own login function. As expansion of Social Network, 45.1% of website adopted the social comment which means Social comments became a sort of bypass of Real-name verification. In Mar 2011, the government officially announced that social comments are not a subject matter of Real-Name Verification policy anymore. Finally, Korean government realized that enforcement of local act to global based company is almost impossible.

This case shows interesting dynamics and complexity between local and global internet environment setting. Korean government had been made a ceaseless effort to extend the as local policy, even though various criticisms over the policy had been raised. However Google and Social Network API, global function makes local policy powerless. In addition, it also reminds us needs of researches for how local and global setting is interwoven in internet environment.


Revisiting the term and categories of Social Networking Sites

Throughout the S604 Online Social Networking Sites lectures, we have been reading articles that somehow attempts to define the term social networking site (SNS). Even though social networking sites became popular around 2002 and 2003 (boyd & Ellison, 2007), the concerns and issues about people socializing on computer networks and the Internet goes back to the 1990’s. In 1996 Wellman et al. (1996) brought up issues that are still relevant to nowadays’ social networking sites but, at that time, they were referring to any computer networks.

Wellman et al. argue that when computer networks connect people along with machine, they turn themselves into social networks. The authors call them computer-supported social networks (CSSNs), which are able to sustain strong, intermediate and weak ties that supply information and promote social support in specialized and broadly based relationships. CSSNs foster virtual communities that are commonly partial and narrowly focused. The communication within these networks was basically done through electronic mails and computerized conferencing usually text-based and asynchronous.

According to the authors, CSSNs “accomplish a wide variety of cooperative work, connecting workers within and between organizations who are often physically dispersed”. Like any other social ambience, CSSNs have developed their own social norms and structures. The essence of the framework can limit as well as facilitate social control. CSSNs “have strong societal implications, fostering situations that combine global connectivity, the fragmentation of solidarities, the de-emphasis of local organizations (in the neighborhood and workplace), and the increased importance of home bases”.

It is interesting to highlight that, even though Wellman et al.’s definition came around in 1996, it is really close to the definition of social networking sites given by boyd and Ellison (2007). The main difference is that the “social network” in 1996 comprised of the entire computer network, due to its simplicity, and nowadays it is “only” a website. Wellman et al. do not talk specifically about impression management, but based on their article, we can infer that it was done through the language and writing styles of the person, it was also done by the person’s signature, which was considered their profile.

The author’s narrative gives us an impression that the concept of CSSNs and its development are not technological deterministic. In other words, technology (CSSNs) does not change society — it only affords possibilities for change. CSSNs are social institutions that should not be studied in isolation but as integrated into everyday lives. Thus, it gives sociologists wonderful opportunities to research the CSSNs’ area and develop social systems and not just study them after the fact. Like William Buxton once said, “the computer science is easy, the sociology is hard.”

As the years go by, social networking sites get more and more sophisticated, as well as infiltrated in our daily lives. Nowadays, it seems that almost every new website is some sort of SNSs, since they are very oriented in connecting people, getting discussions going and sharing them with the largest amount of people as possible – through Facebook, Twitter, etc. Having this SNS trend on the Internet, it makes the definition of social networking sites to seem somehow fuzzy and uncertain. boyd and Ellison (2007) were the precursors in attempting to define SNSs as we know them nowadays. Their study was conducted in 2006, when the use of SNSs (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, Orkut…) was just reaching a fast pace of adoption.

Since “an Internet year is like a dog year, changing approximately seven times faster than normal human time” (Wellman, 2001), a lot has changed regarding social networking sites. The definition proposed by boyd and Ellison can still be considered valid, but as we re-read it, it seems too broad and vague, encompassing pretty much almost every new tool nowadays, since they are SNS-oriented (mentioned before).

Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) analyze this SNS trend on the Internet and come up with a more current and organized definition of social networking sites as well as other medias that are oriented towards socializing. They first attempt to characterize three terms that are usually confused by managers and academic researchers: Social Media, Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. Their approach to such terms is:

  • User Generated Content (UGC) can be seen as the sum of all ways in which people make use of Social Media. It is usually applied to describe the various forms of media content that are publicly available and created by end-users (i.e. Wikipedia, Blogs)
  • Web 2.0 represents the ideological and technological foundation, it is the platform for the evolution of Social Media (i.e. Adobe Flash, RSS, AJAX);
  • Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (i.e. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter).

Having those terms defined, Kaplan and Haenlein go into “Social Media” and detail the six different types of Social Media:

  • Collaborative projects: it enables “the joint and simultaneous creation of content by many end-users and are, in this sense, probably the most democratic manifestation of UGC.” The main idea underlying collaborative projects is that the joint effort of many actors leads to a better outcome than any actor could achieve individually. (i.e. Wikipedia)
  • Blogs: “represent the earliest form of Social Media, are special types of websites that usually display date-stamped entries in reverse chronological order (OECD, 2007)”.
  • Content Communities:  “sharing of media content between users. Content communities exist for a wide range of different media types, including text (e.g., BookCrossing, via which 750,000+ people from over 130 countries share books), photos (e.g., Flickr), videos (e.g., YouTube), and PowerPoint presentations (e.g., Slideshare)”.
  • Social networking sites: applications that enable users to connect by creating personal information profiles, inviting friends and colleagues to have access to those profiles, and sending e-mails and instant messages between each other. These personal profiles can include any type of information, including photos, video, audio files, and blogs. (i.e. Facebook)
  • Virtual game worlds: “platforms that replicate a three dimensional environment in which users can appear in the form of personalized avatars and interact with each other as they would in real life”. (i.e. World of Warcraft)
  • Virtual social worlds:  “allows inhabitants to choose their behavior more freely and essentially live a virtual life similar to their real life. The users appear in the form of avatars and interact in a three-dimensional virtual environment; however, in this realm, there are no rules restricting the range of possible interactions, except for basic physical laws such as gravity”. (i.e. Second Life)

Although Kaplan and Haenlein definitions and categories seem very accurate and recent, from 2010, there seems, already, to be a new category on the rise: Mobile Social Media. This category does not only encompass the social apps (social applications for mobile devices), but also the fact that users would be able to fallow their friends across the world (i.e. Google Latitude). This new Mobile Social Network is a lot alike the CSSNs proposed by Wellman et al, but more sophisticated. It seems that Mobile is taking control of the Social Media locomotive, so let’s hop on, and see where it will take us.

Main Articles:

  • Kaplan, A.M. & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media;
  • Utz, S. (2000). Social information processing in MUDs: The development of friendships in virtual worlds;
  • Wellman, B., Salaff, J., Dimitrova, D., Garton, L., Gulia, M., & Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Computer networks as social networks: Collaborative work, telework, and virtual community;

Cited Articles:

  • boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.
  • Wellman, B. (2001). Computer networks as social networks. Science, 293, 2031–2034.