Korea has threatened to block Tumblr should the site not cooperate with the South Korean government to censor pornographic content. The Korean government’s position was revealed during a briefing held earlier today in Seoul. The vice chairman of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), Heo Wook, said that blocking access to the site in South Korea is a real consideration, though he acknowledged that the measure is as-of-yet not necessary. The KCSC is Korea’s internet censorship arm. Heo commented:
“Though 10 percent (of the content on Tumblr) is pornographic, the other 90 percent has a positive value. As the distribution of porn can impact brand image, we will continue to ask for cooperation in self-censorship. f you ask me whether it is appropriate to block access, it’s not there yet. But we will consider blocking Tumblr if the problem becomes serious.”
Pornography has been illegal in South Korea, which enjoys the fastest average internet connection speeds in the world, for years. The vast majority of takedown requests sent by the KCSC end up with Tumblr, which has refused to comply based on freedom of expression beliefs. Tumblr responded:
“Tumblr is a U.S. company regulated by U.S. law. Tumblr has no physical presence in South Korea and is not subject to its jurisdiction or laws.”
Whether South Korea blocks Tumblr or not will be a litmus test for freedom of expression
Pornography censorship is continually used for normal censorship. When governments have the mandate to block any website because of pornography, the internet usually ends up suffering from over-censorship. The issue is especially poignant for sites that allow users to upload their own data – like Tumblr. In the United Kingdom, the Digital Economy Act has created a similar situation, where onlookers have warned that the law is written in such a way that aggregation sites such as Reddit (or Tumblr) can be blocked for violating pornography laws, even though only a portion of site content is considered NSFW. If South Korea ends up blocking access to the image sharing site, VPN use in South Korea may rise – but we’ll be sure that the government there truly isn’t friendly to freedom of expression.