South Korea’s decision to jail an artist for sarcastic tweets on North Korea points to governments’ growing concerns about Twitter as a tool for political dissent.
Citing the National Security Law, prosecutors charged artist Park Jung-geun for reposting tweets from North Korea’s government-run account. The National Security Law prohibits “acts that benefit the enemy,” and Park’s tweets allegedly fall within this category.
Park insists that his tweets point out the hypocrisy and absurdity of the North Korean government, not champion it. Park supports the Korean Socialist Party’s stance against North Korea’s regime and hereditary transfer of power. The South Korean government, led by conservative president Lee Myung-Bak, interpreted Park’s tweets as sincere dissent, though Park insists they were tongue-in-cheek.
“This is not a national security case, it’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities’ complete failure to understand sarcasm,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, in support of Park Jung-Geun.
Amnesty International is campaigning for Park’s immediate release. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.
Park’s case illustrates the Lee administration’s strict enforcement of the national law, as the number of Internet-related political dissent arrests has grown exponentially since Lee took office.
The South Korean government’s preoccupation over Twitter dissent is just one example of the larger global trend of governments and organizations struggling to balance security concerns, social media, and freedom of speech.
From London to Seoul, governments have taken action against Twitter users posting potentially damaging messages. Following the London riots, Scotland Yard sought to arrest organizers based on their Twitter posts and BBMs. The U.K. also arrested the representative for hacker group LulzSec, accusing him of running the group’s Twitter account.
The Democratic Republic of Congo banned social networks, including Twitter, as well as text messages to squash efforts to organize against the government.
Governments in the Middle East and North Africa went to great lengths to quell the uprisings of their citizens, and went after social media for spurring the protests. Activists in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and a number of other nations used sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to spread information and organize.
For example, Egypt blocked access to the Internet during the unrest, though its crackdown proved futile as Hosni Mubarek stepped down from power. And, Syrian protestors feared repercussions for Twitter and Facebook use, saying the government would track their activity on the sites and then arrest them.
As Twitter expands its user base, the company is making concessions to restrictive nations. For example, the social media site recently agreed to withhold controversial tweets according to each country’s requests. The company insists it will keep transparency, and has yet to withhold any tweets.
The South Korean government’s decision to detain Park demonstrates how uneasy social media makes administrations. Concerned governments are likely to continue quelling dissent, which means they will keep seeking control over information broadcast through social media, and punishing those who use services like Twitter to voice opposition to the regime.