Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
Twitter and Election: Do Indigent Candidates Dream of Electric Campaigns?

This is a true story of a famous IT blogger in Korea. For convenience, let's call him "Doax", which is his nickname on the web and twitter. His blog( is one of the most popular IT blog in South Korea("Korea"), which attracts tens of thousands of bloggers a day. After President Myung Bak Lee took office as President of Korea, he occasionally criticized the policies of the President in his blog. In addition, he made and distribute a "Retirement Clock of the President Lee" to the public through internet.

Recently, one of the biggest issue of Korea is local elections, and among those electoral issues, election of the governor of Gyung Gi province, which is suburban area of Seoul and one of the richest provinces in Korea, is on the hottest debate. Because the incumbent governor, Mun Su Kim is still the most powerful candidate for the next governor of the Grand National Party("GNP"), which is ruling and ministerial party of Korea, all of the dissenters against the government and the GNP have strong interests on the negotiation about unifying candidacy between the opposition parties.

On March 22, 2010, Doax posted a tweet on his twitter: "Who do you want as a unified candidate? http:// u4h8mk #twtpoll Please vote and retweet." It means that he asked his followers to vote in the tweet poll, which is a hypothetical voting system in tweeter, and to introduce this poll to other people. He posted several tweets that day, in order to encourage his followers to vote. On the next day, he received "mention" from another twitter user whose user name is "nec3939", saying "You have to announce the investigation area, date and time, investigation method, sample error rate, answer rate and questions simultaneously." Doax replied, "Please don't post the tweet like that unless you're a fool. How can you announce the investigation area, date and time in the tweet poll? You should learn more about tweet." The nec3939 replied that nec3939 was a user name of National Electoral Committee("NEC"), a supervising organization for election established by the Constitution. Doax answered, "You have to verify that you are the NEC. Even when a police officer wants to walk someone to a police station for interrogation, he has to show his police ID first. Please show me your ID." But the nec3939 refused to verify his identity and keep saying "Please find the news article." In a news article, NEC mentioned that it would manage the tweeter account in the name of "nec3939". Finally, Doax erased the tweet poll on March 26, which is the deadline that was noticed by nec3939. But that morning, Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency began to investigate him on suspicion of violation of election law.

If he is to be punished for this charge, he will be the first election offense in relation to tweeter in Korea. A lot of tweeter users criticized the investigation by the police, and they began movement in order to protect Doax against the investigation.

There are a lot of issues with respect to this case - for example, as Doax has pointed out, under the situation that nec3939 had not officially verified its identity to Doax, Doax did not have any obligation to act in accordance with nec3939's instructions, because there could be a lot of fake tweeter users under the feigned name of NEC. And surely, another issue is whether the tweet poll which Doax posted was truly a violation of election law, which prohibits an opinion survey without a written report to NEC, which was taken after 180 days before the election date. Above all, the way of which the nec3939 identified the tweet poll taken by Doax can give rise to a serious problem of morality of government organization. If, in the course of finding the violation of election law, NEC intentionally followed Doax in the tweeter for the purpose of finding any violation, it can be interpreted as a targeted inspection of a government organization on layperson who has a propensity of opposing the government policy. It is hard to prove, and there is also a possibility of which the NEC found the violation by chance through retweeted message from another tweet users.

As shown above, twitter in election has become one of the hottest electoral issue in Korea, and it is causing a lot of problems waiting to be solved. Nowadays a lot of politicians add twitter as their public relations media, but in fact, there is a tendency that politicians of opposing parties recognize and admit the twitter more seriously. Frankly speaking, the smaller party the politician belongs to, the more importantly the politician takes the twitter as a media. The reason for this phenomenon is partly because politicians of opposing parties have a tendency to be supported by younger voters who have a more liberal and progressive political views and are very familiar with IT media. However, the main reason for this phenomenon is that the twitter is definitely the cheapest way of managing public relations. Twitter is one of many public relation media for a politician who has enough funding to maintain offline supporters organizations, but it can be the only public relations media for politicians of opposing parties short of funding.

On February 12, NEC officially announced that tweeter shall be controlled and regulated in accordance with the election law, because tweeter is a kind of email. NEC's position is based on Section 93(1) of the election law, which provides that no one can distribute or post advertisements, posters, prints or materials similar thereto which contain contents of supporting or dissenting candidates after 180 days before the election date. NEC's view assumes that tweeter falls on the category of " materials similar thereto", such as email. Politicians of opposing parties severely contended that tweeter is different from email in which tweeter transfers short messages(tweets) only between sender and his designated followers. On March 25, 147 plaintiffs including 13 Assemblymen of opposing parties and twitter users filed a constitutional complaint contending that the Section 93(1) of the election law is unconstitutional because its scope and limit is unclear and its contents can be easily distorted by arbitrary interpretation and application of a executing officer, and that it infringes the basic rights of the people, especially the freedom of speech.

Once given a judgment, this case will be recorded as one of the leading case which can measure the limit of freedom of speech in a cyber space in Korea.

This essay is just a little longer than 1,000 words, but you need to cut it to bring it within the limit established for all essays. I think it gives a good account of the situation, but such an account can be shortened. What the essay needs, in order to attain its full value, is some analysis from you about what you consider all of this to mean. From the US point of view, a statute that prohibits polling in the period before an election without reporting to a government organization is plainly unconstitutional interference with freedom of speech, so my response to the story is to consider it less about Twitter than about the different cultural understandings of the freedom of speech and its importance in the hierarchy of social priorities. But for you there is presumably something else at stake, and it would be interesting and valuable to understand how it looks from your point of view. How do you analyze the situation?


Webs Webs

r4 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:23 - IanSullivan
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