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South Koreans seek open communications

By Kyung Lah, CNN
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S. Korea loses cyber space legal battle
  • "South Korea is competing with North Korea in trying to control the public," social media user says
  • He addresses nation's approach to social media users
  • "People are angry," he says

(CNN) -- Koh JaeYoul may not work at a powerful South Korean media outlet, but the might of his 140 character tweets is considered one of this highly wired country's most influential.

Koh is better known by his 72,000 twitter followers as Dogsul, or 'straight talk' in Korean.

According to twitoast, Dogsul is one of South Korea's top 10 power twitterers. One of his consistent discussions lately has been the South Korean government's approach to social media users.

"South Korea is competing with North Korea in trying to control the public," Koh says.

As we talk, Koh tweets a question to his followers, asking what they think about South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's moves against netizens.

The responses vary, from comparisons to China's attempts to control speech on the web, to allegations that the administration is trying to hide information from its citizens.

"People are angry," Koh says.

The anger stems from a number of incidents, including recent indictments against 19 people.

The government charged the 19 defendants with sending false text messages under a 50-year-old telecommunications law that states spreading lies with the intent of harming the public interest is punishable by law.

The text messages were sent in the wake of North Korea's November 23rd attack on the south's Yeonpyeong Island, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.

The government says the 19 defendants sent text messages stating that South Korea had declared war and the military was mobilizing. Yesterday, South Korea's Constitutional Court, which has jurisdiction over constitutional review of statutes, complaints and disputes, ruled that the telecommunications law was unconstitutional. The court found the term "public interest" too "unclear and abstract," according to the court.

The case before the Constitutional Court was brought by a blogger who in 2009, posted a warning online that the country's foreign reserves would be drained soon because of the government's irresponsible foreign exchange rate policies during the global economic slowdown. The government indicted him with spreading false information online, under the telecommunications law. Now that the court has ruled the law unconstitutional, legal watchers are predicting the 19 indicted texters will see their indictments reversed.

The ruling comes as President Lee Myung-bak is stepping up his rhetoric and pushing for a united public opinion from his citizens against Pyongyang.

In his weekly radio address, Lee said, "To this end, we need to stand together united as one. There can be no difference between you and me when it comes to national security because our lives and the survival of the nation depend on it."

Referring to the North wanting the South's citizens to question the government, Lee said, "They are focusing on trying to pull us apart. For this reason, we need to achieve national unity before taking strong military countermeasures. If we show the North Koreans how steadfastly united we are, they will not dare challenge us. Their intentions will be thwarted. They always have their eyes open to take advantage of any opportunity if they detect any divisiveness in our minds and thoughts."

But Koh says the Lee administration should harness, not fight social media users.

"Whether public opinion is divided or undivided is not the issue," Koh says. "What's important is whether issues are being fully discussed. Government isn't always right. There should be more communication."