Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Online Accusation Targets Middle School Teacher."

Last week we learned that ubiquitous comedianne Jeong Sun-hee was forced to resign from three of her shows because of some quote-unquote controversial comments regarding anti-beef protesters. Yesterday's Dong-A Ilbo tells us that netizens have targetted a teacher for attempting to allay fears about Mad Cow Disease. A couple of excerpts:
A Web posting on an Internet community yesterday targeted a middle school history teacher who allegedly praised the resumption of U.S. beef imports.

The person who posted the allegation also gave out the teacher’s name, school and cell phone number, urging others to gag the teacher by making protest calls to the teacher and the school.

Once the post was put on the community’s forum, the school and teacher were inundated with angry calls and cursing text messages. The teacher canceled his cell phone service yesterday afternoon.

Comments blasting the teacher continued to be posted, but one anonymous individual urged that no harm come to the teacher, calling the accusation undemocratic cyber-terrorism.

A co-worker of the teacher said, “I read the allegation and it’s completely unfounded. Nobody has bothered to check the truth. All they seem to focus on is attacking [the teacher]. We cannot teach anything to our students.”

Another student at the school said, “Yes, the teacher talked about beef, but he did not support importing American beef. Our friends and other students admire him. He is an enthusiastic teacher. We’re all shocked that this false accusation was posted on the Internet.”

Hyeon Tae-soo, a sociology professor at Korea University in Seoul, said, “This personal attack and the ensuing witch hunt against a person’s integrity is an unforgivable act. It’s public abuse in the name of democracy.”

Might as well have posted the whole article. If this kind of intimidation keeps up, are the netizens any different than the "monster" Japanese parents we read about last week, dictating school curriculum and policy via bullying? Ironically, this comes on the heels of huge protests celebrating Korea's democratic history and the commemoration of June 10th, comes as these protests are rendered as a matter of national survival and democratic expression, and comes as these beef imports are being represented as blatant disregard for the will of the people. This teacher's actions also contrast with the very vocal Korea Teachers' Union (KTU) and their unabashed anti-beef, anti-American agenda.

This is a lone reported case, so it's unwise to make sweeping generalizations about attacks against teachers, though I have no doubt that a teacher who does not toe the national company line will face severe consequences. Cyberbullying, though, is rather common around here, and Korean netizens can be a very wild, enthusiastic, irritable, inflammatory, and hateful bunch. Off the top of my head I recall them shutting down the FIFA website, driving a teenage girl to suicide, and driving a couple celebrities to suicide, to say nothing of the myriad campaigns to do something or other. On the topic of "witch hunts" we have, as Gusts of Popular Feeling reminds us, the Dog Poo Girl and English Spectrumgate. And on the topic of teachers being disciplined and canned for controversial beliefs, we remember Gerry Bevers, who was not rehired by his university after writing unpopular views about the Liancourt Rocks.

Given the power netizens and citizen journalists have around here to both represent and shape popular opinion, and even to infiltrate the mainstream media, I suspect this type of intimidation against teachers will be an increasingly popular trend. I was going to snidely comment that perhaps this teacher should learn to understand Korea's unique culture, but I couldn't fit it in anywhere. I do know that all of us are getting very interesting lessons in Korean culture throughout all of this, though.

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