A June 2015 report published by the Research Affairs Department of Seoul National University, stated that approximately 80% of teenagers have been exposed to violent or salacious content or even gambling, while surfing the net, or playing online games. This means that adolescents are regularly exposed to unfiltered online content. So how does this happen? The Dankook Herald investigated. This problem can be explained in one way: the inoperative regulation system.
First, online games convince users they need to buy more features to get more out of the game and the biggest impact is being made on impressionable adolescents eager to earn bragging rights. For example, in ‘Clash Royale’, one of the most popular mobile games, players have to make cash purchases of the ‘Super Magical Chest’ to get fancy characters and valuable game items. However, their purchasing system is random, so you don’t always end up with the characters or features that you were after. The only thing you can do is spend more money to try your luck again. This is how this game tricks people into spending more money. When adolescents start playing this kind of game, without adult supervision, the results can be serious. Game makers have put some restrictions in place, such as prohibiting micropayments or demanding parental approval to complete a purchase, however teenagers are somehow still able to use their cash to attempt to purchase these fancy items. Critics have called this game out for being little more than online gambling, and demanded regulations for these ‘Probability Items’ being up for grabs in mobile games.
Next, online games are likely to include violent or sexual content. For instance, ‘Overwatch’, currently the most popular online game, has been given a 15 rating by the Game Rating and Administration Committee because it contains a lot of sexual and violent scenes throughout the game. However, many under-aged players open game accounts using their parents’ information, effectively overriding the game playing age restrictions. When they get caught by the police, they only receive light disciplinary action for the illegal use of their parents’ information. This slap on the wrist effectively encourages under-aged students to believe it isn’t a big risk to take. In other words, these cases occurred because of a malfunctioning regulation system.
Meanwhile, there are also a lot of cases of provocative content in social media and adverts, which are not usually regulated by the system. For instance, there are plenty of examples where social media is overrun with inappropriate content. Facebook or Twitter users, including adolescents, can do a simple word search for anything related to pornography and the internet will respond with pages of sexual content that does not require proof of age. With pornography and other illegal content easily available on social media, it can easily be spread and it is clear there needs to be measures put in place to curb access to this type of content by the underaged. However, it is not just illicit content that is easily accessible to anyone. There have been cases of gratuitous violence also being publicly posted. Three months ago, a 14-year-old foster child in the US state of Florida, live broadcasted her own suicide on Facebook. This tragedy occurred just weeks after another child hanged herself in a 40-minute live video posted online. Facebook came under harsh criticism for these cases and the need for stronger regulations once again became a hot topic.
Finally, there is a growing ‘pornography of poverty’ on display in fundraising charity adverts. What this means is that people are constantly being exposed to charity funding campaigns for poor African communities. Most of these adverts portray these communities as suffering from rampant poverty and disease, implying that if viewers don’t help them, their living conditions will continue to decline. However, they fail to show the full story. Africans are not all living in abject poverty. As a result of these adverts, people have preconceived notions that all of Africa is desolate, thereby prejudicing the outside world against the rest of the people. Since this isn’t breaking any laws, there are plenty of skewed charity adverts still available online.
It is clear that there aren’t any functional regulations for inappropriate content in online media, and there is even some that has never even come under any regulation or control. To get a professional perspective on this topic, the Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Professor Jeon Jong-wo, a professor at School of Communications. The DKH asked why he thought provocative online content is a problem. He responded that it has a negative social effect on everybody, but for teenagers, who are still in process of building their personality, they are particularly impacted by this kind of content. With TV shows and movies, adolescents are protected from inappropriate content through age regulations and strict monitoring by their parents. But in the case of the content in games, social media and charity adverts, there are no effective regulations in place. Moreover, all these kind of content in media have cultivation effect, he insisted. In other words, the way media describe content can causes people to have prejudiced or biased thoughts on specific subjects, which might be very dangerous.
The DKH asked why he thought this problem was escalating. He stated that we should think about the benefit system from which the content makers make profits. In other words, the more attention they get, the more benefits they get, so they are likely to stick with promoting this type of over-stimulating content. For example, in case of content in social media, a lot of people want to put their own lives on display and get some attention, such as ‘Likes’ on Facebook’; which is effectively a benefit system.
Finally, we asked if he knew of any solutions for these problems. He argued that it is very important to find a middle ground between regulating over-stimulating content and respecting the content-maker’s right to produce whatever they want. He also stated that education or even a system of compulsory regulation is not the best way to put an end to this problem. Instead, he argued that there should be an autonomous regulation system in place that encourages people to not make inappropriate content. Furthermore, he insists that building healthy social cognitions on content in media is an ideal and fundamental solution to this problem. For instance, he said that even though the way charity adverts describe African community may bring benefits, those benefits will be short lived because they are creating a bias against the people. If people realize this, there won’t be a need for narrow-minded charity adverts.
As the professor suggested, Korean media industries are now starting to build a system of self-regulation and are promoting a more healthy cognition of the media with the public. Game manufacturers are also planning on accepting a system of revised self-regulation as of July 2017. This innovative regulation was announced by the Korean Internet Digital Entertainment Association, and it will introduce controls over the random purchasing system, such as banning the probability of losing a draw in the random box. Moreover, the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea posted a video on YouTube criticizing the system of pornography of poverty. However, the regulation of mobile games accessible to under-aged adolescents remains a problem, and there are still biased charity adverts plastered all around online media.
It is clear that the tendency to create over-stimulating content in media is incited by a malfunctioning or even totally absent system of regulations. Even though some efforts have been made, by media companies and associations, to create a system of autonomous regulation and social cognition, people can easily access to the inappropriate content. As a result, people have to remain vigilant and keep an eye on this problem. As the professor said, the best way to put an end to the problem is to encourage people to stop accepting this kind of online content. Now is not the time to neglect our responsibilities. We need to step up and solve it.
김한영, 박해지 email@example.com