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Tumblr: ‘We Are a US Site so Do Not Care about Korean Law’
Under Heavy Fire
Tumblr: ‘We Are a US Site so Do Not Care about Korean Law’
  • By Choi Mun-hee
  • December 7, 2017, 01:45
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The opening page of Tumblr with an image implying an adult animation as a background image.
The opening page of Tumblr with an image implying an adult animation as a background image.


Controversy is brewing over US-based social media Tumblr's neglecting harmful posts. Tumblr is not subject to any Korean legal regulations simply because Tumblr is a foreign site and Tumblr headquarters in the United States does not regulate and manage problematic contents.

As of December 6, 54,000 netizens signed up for a petition to punish overseas sites such as Tumblr for the unauthorized distribution of harmful contents such as pornography in the "National Petition" corner on the website of Cheong Wa Dae (Korea’s White House). This petition posted on November 30 is now drawing the largest number of supporting comments. If more than 200,000 Koreans recommend this message in a month, officials of the government and Cheong Wa Dae should directly tackle the matter.

Tumblr created by 21-year-old American David Karp in 2007 is a social media and blogging service. You can easily upload your favorite photos or short stories and share them with people via Tumblr. There are now 345 million Tumblr subscribers worldwide and more than 154 billion posts have been uploaded to Tumblr over the last 10 years.

Karp, the founder and CEO of Tumblr, sold off Tumblr to Yahoo in 2013 for about US$ 1.1 billion. Now that Yahoo was sold off to Verizon, Tumblr is now a subsidiary of Verizon. At the end of last month, Karp also stepped down after working for 10 years at Tumblr.

Karp’s resignation from Tumblr was affected by growing controversy that Tumblr did nothing about various harmful posts and breeds crimes in the US. In the United States in December of last year, an underage sex video spread via Tumblr so a Manhattan court in New York ordered Tumblr to disclose personal information of 281 users that circulated the video." However, Tumblr, a platform operator, eluded legal penalties, fueling ethical criticisms.

In Korea, an increase in the number of Tumblr subscribers exponentially raises harmful posts suggesting prostitution and sex crimes and showing adult contents harmful to minors. The problem is that there is no safeguard against harmful posts along with porous subscription procedures.

Tumblr provides its privacy policies and terms of use that internet business operators are legally required to only in English. "Tumblr is a US company so abides by US law and jurisdiction," Tumblr says, "Its terms of service are provided in English only."

Tumblr has a menu to report damages or privacy violations by posts on Tumblr. But the menu is of no use. When a user touches the menu of "Report a Damage" in the Tumblr App, types of damages are shown in English such as "Malicious or hate speech" and "Self-harm" among others only in English.

Also in the message box of the damage report page of Tumblr, Tumblr requests users to write in English, saying, “We cannot process questions or complaints in Korean. So please write your message in English only.” This means that in fact, if and when Korean users suffer damages from Tumblr, Tumblr has no will to save or help users.

In October, during a parliamentary inspection of the administration in Korea, some lawmakers raised issues about punishments against foreign internet sites such as Tumblr as a hot-button issue. Prior to the parliamentary inspection, the Korea Communications Standards Commission requested Tumblr Headquarters in the US for cooperation in deliberating on illegal content via e-mail. However, Tumblr spurned the Korean government's request, saying "Tumblr is a US company that does not exist in Korea."

Another problem is a system that allows companies to regulate these online posts on their own. Since 2002, the Korea Communications Standards Commission has been running the Self-Monitoring Cooperation System in which Korean and foreign Internet business operators including major portals participate directly.

Naver, Kakao and the Korean corporations of Google, Twitter and Facebook among others which joined the system have to remove and deal with clearly unlawful information such as smuts, human organ trafficking, and suicides before the commission takes actions. The commission asked Tumblr to join the Self-Monitoring Cooperation System but Tumblr turned it down. As the commission has no legal authority to make Tumblr join the system, those at the commission are sitting on their hands.

"We will get Tumblr to participate in the self-monitoring cooperative system," said Lee Hyo-sung, chairman of the Korea Communications Standards Commission in his presentation about policy visions on December 6. "I think it is necessary to revise relevant acts in order to enhance the implementation power of regulations."