'Real Name Only' Policy Killed in South Korea

Dennis Faas's picture

South Korea has abandoned a law requiring Internet users to use their real name, declaring it a restriction of free speech. However, the Chinese government continues to employ a similar rule.

The South Korean law took effect in 2007, following extensive abuse and malicious false stories written about public figures by anonymous individuals.

Under the law, any South Korean website with more than 100,000 visitors a day had to verify the identity of those posting comments, including checking their resident registration numbers (roughly equivalent to U.S. Social Security numbers). (Source: bbc.co.uk)

The law had little effect, as people making abusive comments simply posted on foreign news sites, exempt from the law but available for South Koreans to read.

There were also unintended consequences. For example, major retailers had to begin verifying the identity of users who wrote product reviews. (Source: pcworld.com)

Judges Declare 'Real Name Law' Unconstitutional

South Korea's Constitution Court has now voted unanimously to overturn the law. The judges ruled forcing people to give their identities can silence those who are afraid to be identified but hold important views and opinions.

According to the judges, the 'real name law' violated the right to free speech, which far outweighs any benefits it may have produced.

Chinese Government Forces "Weibo" Users to Identify Themselves

Across the Yellow Sea in China, however, anonymous online speech remains under attack. There, the government has forced "weibo" services to verify the identities of users or be shut down.

A weibo is a service that, like Twitter, allows users to post short messages. Sina Weibo is the biggest of these services, with around 300 million users. Those behind the service say the administrative process involved in checking user identities has proven monstrously difficult.

US Social Networks Also Have Real Name Policies

While such matters aren't usually covered by law in the United States, several major sites do maintain such policies.

For example, Facebook requires users to register under their real names, and can even demand that a user verifies their identity. The giant social networking site rarely invokes this policy, but did so for a man named Mark Zuckerberg, the same as the company's founder.

Google has introduced a "real names only" policy with its social networking site, Google+. However, so far it has only encouraged YouTube users to employ their real names when commenting on videos.

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