Appropriate Reponse to Minerva?

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A trap in the Minerva case has caught the Korean government
Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Minerva is the goddess of wisdom in roman myth, but today it is also the pseudonym of a famous Korean Internet blogger. The blogger doesn’t have any degree in economics. He is also not an expert in finance. What is worse, he is not a wealthy investor. Since Korea is a very harsh society which values people almost exclusively according to their scholarship, Minerva couldn’t be powerful and famous in off-line society. However, our new and powerful on-line society is not so harsh to those who express their own opinions in public. The most important thing in that world is how popular they are and popularity is decided with page views.

Minerva made his reputation on the Internet with his economic prophecies – prophecies that have all turned out to be true until now. Most famously, he predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers five days before it happened.  Also, he predicted the drastic decrease of South Korea’s currency a few days before it happened in the real world. As a result of such accurate prophecies, his blog gained more than 40 million page views and Minerva was nicknamed the Online Oracle and the Internet President of the Economy in South Korean society.

However, his accurate predictions of the economic situation became a huge problem to the Korean government and the presidency of Lee Myung-bak since Minerva criticized the Korean government’s economic and financial policies and made gloomy prophecies about this country’s economy. Minerva’s online influence was so tremendous that this prophecy obviously made the Korean government and President Lee nervous.

Korea had just finished a painful experience related to distrust of the presidency last year. To be specific, the Korean public was thrown into a panic by media and online reports that American beef would spread Mad Cow Disease. The whole event, including angry candlelight protests by thousands of people and much abusive language against the Korean government and the President on the Internet, eventually calmed down. But the record of it became a silent, humiliating image of the Korean public to all foreign countries because most foreign people already knew about the rarity of mad cow disease. From this event, one could see that the Korean public can be easily motivated to protest the existing presidency without careful consideration or abundant evidence. Also, the event made the Korean government more wary of dangerously effective information on the Internet.

The Minerva case happened in this climate. A startled government ordered the police to restrict Minerva. Minerva wrote that the government issued an emergency order on December 29 urging top banks to stop buying dollars but the government denied issuing the order. This gave the government a reason for detaining Minerva, because one of his postings was clearly false. The government detained a Mr. Park as Minerva, invoking a seldom-used telecommunications law that charges him with harming the public by spreading false rumors.

However, some people argue that the detention of Park was not the appropriate response. Event though the government tried to control the power of Minerva, Lee’s imprisonment has further strengthened his popularity. The government should not have been so hostile to Minerva, and instead chose to ignore the Minerva boom until the fever of the Korean public calmed down.