SNS, the Double-edged Sword

In the past, information spread through traditional media such as television and newspapers, but with the advent of social networking services and widespread Internet connectivity, most anyone can access and disseminate so-called news and share opinions with the world. Writers explore the ways new media affects the lives of the young and disaffected.


SNS and Chirashi

Advertisement: Dangerous Rumors, which opened on February 20, 2014, is a Korean film that turns the spotlight on the seamy underbelly of the Korean Internet. The original title in Korean is Chirashi, a word most Koreans are familiar with but merits explanation for readers from different cultures. The term chirashi, also sometimes used to refer to the stock market, is used in this case to refer to discreetly circulated newsletters of blind items, typically concerned with defaming public figures such as celebrities or politicians.

In Korean, the word chirashi means “flyer.” While a flyer can be an advertisement for anything, in Korea, the Japanese loanword chirashi usually refers to cheap flyers handed out on the street. Nowadays the word is increasingly used to refer to blind gossip rather than its more prosaic meaning.

To be fair, spreading gossip and sharing rumors is practically a human instinct. The problem is that this “instinct” has gained lightning speed and devastating power, thanks to social networking services (SNS). Unlike the pre-Internet days, when gossip was spread by word of mouth, gossip in the digital world spreads at a speed that has nothing to do with its veracity. At some point, people began sharing chirashi on SNS such as Facebook or Kakao Talk (a popular Korean instant messaging app) and the effects have been monstrous. Conversely, the increasing number of celebrity lawsuits brought on by rumors spread via SNS attests to the relentless efficiency of such new media.

Internet connectivity in Korea is remarkably fast and widespread. When asked what they find the most inconvenient when traveling in another country, the overwhelming response of Koreans was the speed of the Internet and Wi-Fi. Constantly being connected and able to access information at record speeds has paved solid ground for social networking services to take root in Korean culture. What has been the Korean response to this phenomenon and how has it been reconstructed in Korean culture?

Cool Media and Detached Relationships

Hanseon knew about Sujin’s comings and goings in New Jersey through Facebook and he could also keep tabs on what kind of people she was meeting. From time to time he would drop a comment of some sort on her posts. But those occasions dwindled over time and Sujin’s posts about her daily life became less frequent as well.

A week passed with no news from Sujin. She was not answering his calls. She replied to texts long after he sent them, only to say that she was busy now and would contact him later. Hanseon began entering Sujin’s information in Google. Things like her name, national identification number, address, and phone number. It was almost too easy to find out who she was marrying and where. Her friends were sharing the news on Cyworld, Twitter, and Facebook. At first, he had only set out to collect information about the wedding, but the search engine dredged up her activities in America as well. She had gone out with a white man with the last name of McGuiness, a man who had been divorced once.

- Kim Young-ha, “Trip”

In Kim Young-ha’s short story “Trip,” from the collection Nobody Knows What Happened, a university lecturer keeps in touch with his girlfriend through Facebook when she goes to study in the U.S. but stops commenting on her posts as their relationship fizzles out. He obtains important personal information about her with ease on social networking sites like Facebook and Cyworld, such as the news of her upcoming nuptials. But that is only the beginning. He also finds out about the men she went out with after breaking up with him and digs up the personal details of the divorced man she dated before meeting her fiancé.

In some ways SNS serve as a voluntary Panopticon. Personal news shared at one time or another is swept up in a stream of data and trickles down to strangers. In the world of SNS, people compete for exposure, spending a lot of time and energy sharing what they eat, wear, and think in a limited number of characters. This kind of exposure, however, can hardly show what an individual is actually like.

Social networking services have degenerated into a space for curating one’s image, including one’s political opinions. Conservatives and progressives alike fill SNS word limits with sensational phrases. They are compelled to share, not because they have important information, but because SNS exist as a place where they must log on and literally create their identity. Novelist Apple Kim's In Heaven depicts the 20-somethings of this generation:

The four hung around the house killing time until night fell. Kay packed, Summer went on Facebook, Dan read a collection of poems by Lorca in Spanish, and Lena stayed in her room and talked continuously on the phone.

For young people, going on Facebook has become merely another way of killing time. Or perhaps it is more accurate to call it a habit, so they “sit gazing into their iPads for hours, going home to make...