Privacy debate rages over 'cyber-terror'
Khang Hyun-sung in Seoul
Earlier this year, the photo of a young woman who allegedly failed to clean up after her dog in the subway appeared on the internet.
Web users throughout South Korea co-operated to reveal her identity and for weeks the woman became the No 1 hate figure in the country's cyber-community.
Vicious and defamatory messages appeared on the Web condemning her, and her school website was bombarded with hate mail.
Such cases of 'cyber-terror' are reaching extreme proportions in one of the world's most wired societies, to the point where a recent survey showed most South Koreans favour Web users being forced to reveal their true identities before leaving messages on the internet.
An online poll suggests 80 per cent of respondents wanted a 'real names system' for Web users, with only 20 per cent opposing it.
The findings come in the wake of a government announcement that it is considering measures to crack down on cyber-harassment, including a proposal to force users to register their personal information and national identity number before leaving messages.
'As much as they enjoy the freedom of expression, people should take responsibility' for their words, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan has said.
The government was particularly incensed earlier this year when a picture of the president was posted on the site of a right-wing internet journal that opposes the government's policy of engagement with North Korea.
It showed a sniper aiming a gun at the president's forehead, with a caption coming from the sniper saying: 'If you support the enemy of the nation once again, then I will put a bullet in your head.'
Mr Lee said: 'Cyber-violence is a crime committed to cause social disruption, and thus the prosecution will have to fight it.'
The daily Joongang newspaper said: 'These are witch hunts, driven by a lynch mob mentality. The internet must no longer be used as a deadly weapon.'
But the opponents of using real names on the Web have raised concerns about the threat to privacy and the danger of identify theft, while other critics say it will suppress legitimate political criticism.
'If people have to write under their real names, they would neither offer sound, solid criticism nor reveal unjust treatment in society,' one university student said.