What Does “KAIST Confessions” Bring to the Table?
Online anonymity is a tricky subject to study. It trails the fine line between the right for unabated freedom of speech and the need for censorship. Recently, some foreign students have taken to “KAIST Confessions”, a new Facebook page for posting anonymous comments from students, to verbalize the conditions they see ill-fit. But it is not certain how beneficial the new page will prove to be for the international community.
The definition of the word freedom has always been an elusive one. In an English classroom at an earlier age, it used to simply mean “the ability to decide without interference”. Later on in a different classroom, this libertarian definition would be rectified to add an important qualification: “as long as it does not harm the freedom of others”. There arises a seeming inconsistency needing to be resolved; we are permitted to act without restriction, as long as we are still bound by certain restrictions. If the proverb of the pen and the sword is correct, then clearing the inconsistencies in the definition of freedom of speech should be of utmost importance. This proves to be a very difficult task when any attempt to do so often becomes further obfuscated by hotly political issues of social justice or multiculturalism.
To properly address this issue, we need to take a deep look at both the necessities and requisites of such a freedom. In modern democratic systems, which make decisions based on the will of the majorities of the populations, there is a danger that the minorities will become completely neglected. The only way for these outsiders to overcome their situation is to make their perspectives heard. If such voices are silenced, the outsiders are further marginalized and grow in numbers, leading to a society full of distress. Then, it becomes intuitive that speech used to incite similar distress through slander or false information cannot be allowed. To distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate criticism, both the intent and effect must be examined. With this in mind, maybe a solution can be reached.
But in reality, before the world has satisfactorily found the appropriate solution, technology has asserted its own answer to the equation. To the delight of the libertarians, technology has provided a method to virtually guarantee anonymity for our expressions. No longer must the outsiders agonize over their less conventional thoughts as now they have a method to be heard without the fear of unjust retributions. Of course, at the same time, we now naturally have an environment where radical misinformation and hate speech run loose in certain communities.
KAIST Confessions has stepped into a meaningful niche in the KAIST community. International students, by definition, are outsiders in this community that desperately need an outlet. It is surprising that an anonymous forum of opinions that is catered towards the non-Korean population of KAIST has only now taken off. In the page’s baby-caterpillar steps, the confessions were unimpressive. Sentences were inaptly structured, opinions were poorly thought out, and attitudes were inappropriately confrontational. It might have been expected, but disappointing nonetheless. Among these confessions, some are so controversial that one can’t help but wonder if some censorship is needed. The temptation is understandable, but perhaps it is too early to take such a restrictive measure. Before we shield our eyes away from the distasteful confessions and protest for content control, we should take a moment to seriously consider the issue of freedom in KAIST.
International members of this community have a practically nonexistent influence on society and are seldom given the opportunity to make themselves heard. When the only perspective that is readily available is the conformist, homogeneous, and xenophobic Korean perspective, can we really blame students for finding recluse in their own convictions? A campus culture of constant mistreatment, coupled with an inability to express against this very oppression, makes a perfect breeding ground for politically outrageous ideas. Only now that these ideas, which have been slowly brewing, are rising to the surface for all to see, we panic and try to shut them off.
If the goal of censorship is to prevent society from distress, it becomes obvious that it is not the correct solution for our dilemma. Ideally, a campus should be a diverse environment where one can learn something from anyone. The diversity we are mistakenly preaching at the moment is to bring in different internationals into a smothering capsule of Korean-ness, then sealing it shut. In a situation where any meaningful dialogue is drowned out by the dominantly mainstream Korean population, censorship starts to look counterintuitive. No matter how immoral some opinions might be, allowing people to accept and express them is the best way to rectify them.
As the page grows larger, it may eventually spread its wings to become a much needed hub of ideas. Ideas worth sharing will be celebrated while controversial ideas will provide a rare opportunity for discourse. The blatantly naïve confessions that seem to plague the page now will be either properly corrected by the community or muffled by other ideas more worth discussing. The ugly chrysalis that currently surrounds KAIST Confessions cannot justify killing the butterfly within.