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South Korea: Blogger's Phone Review Deleted by Samsung

In South Korea, an influential blogger's negative review of a Samsung smartphone has been taken down due to pressure from the manufacturer. Internet users have harshly criticised the nation's biggest conglomerate, Samsung Electronics and Naver, the nation's biggest web portal, for censoring the blogger.

Hahm Young Min is an influential IT blogger who has several thousand daily readers on his blog, Hahm Young Min's DicaGallery. Hahm posted a review of Samsung's newly released smartphone, Galaxy S2 on April 2, 2011, entitled “Nine shortcomings of the Unusable Galaxy2S of Samsung”.

Screenshot of Hahm's removed post.

Screenshot of Hahm's removed post.

“Temporarily suspended”

Several days later, the original post was nowhere to be seen. In its place, was this message from the blog host Naver: “This post has been temporarily suspended due to reader requests. The decision was taken in accordance with Korea Telecommunication Law, Article 44 Clause 2.”

A image of Hahm's now unavailable post, has meanwhile been circulated across the Internet. Hahm is believed to have written the controversial review after using a test version of the GalaxyS2 phone for three weeks. In the review, he pointed out nine shortcomings of the new smartphone, such as the phone's resolution, the amount of heat emitted during use, the battery life, the price, the accessories, the screen's white balance, and minor glitches in the phone's camera.

The public response to the removal of the post was intense. Many, such as IT blogger Green Monkey criticized [ko] Samsung for violating free speech. The blogger said Naver's explanation was a lame excuse, and that Hahm's review was just one among hundreds he had published on gadgets and software:

(함영민씨의) 게시글이 ‘다른 이용자의 요청으로 임의 게시중단'이 되었다. ‘다른 이용자'가 누구인지 감이 오는데, 네이버측은 망할 정보통신망법을 들먹거리며 무려 1443개의 댓글과 191개의 공감을 얻은 게시글을 날려버렸다. […] 함영민씨는 ‘갤럭시S2가 출시되면서 이에 대한 장점들만 나열된 결과가 모두 하나같은 찬양일색. 공동구매 포스팅만 보여지고 있어 안타까운 마음에 손가락을 움직여 봅니다'라고 임의삭제된 갤럭시S2 리뷰를 하게 된 배경을 밝혔다.[…] 여하간 네이버 IT블로거가 그간 삼성전자 휴대폰의 장점들도 리뷰해 왔는데, 갤럭시S2의 단점을 언급했다고 게시글을 삭제토록 한게 누구인지 정말 궁금할 따름이다.

Hahm's post has been ‘arbitrarily suspended’, ‘due to reader requests’. I have a pretty good idea who this so-called ‘reader’ is, but Naver shoved the damned Telecommunication Law in our face, and trashed this post which had earned over 1443 comments and 191 “Likes”. […] In the removed post, Hahm clarified the purpose of his review: ‘When I looked at other blog posts on the Galaxy phone, most of them are either lavish with praise for the phone's strengths, but none of the weaknesses, OR they contain a social marketing request to buy the phone. I found the situation deplorable and started writing this post”.[…] Anyway, that Naver IT blogger [Hahm] had also written positive reviews on Samsung's other cellphones in the past. I am really curious to know who is really behind this ‘deletion’ simply because Hahm mentioned the shortcomings of the Galaxy S2.

In a May 7 post, Hahm published [ko] the text of an email from Samsung explaining what their position:

함영민씨의 글 중에 소비자에게 오해를 불러일으킬 수 있는 부분이 있어서 보완 요청을 드리려고 했던 것인데 진행과정에 문제가 있었던 것 같습니다.

We have attempted to file an adjustment request to you regarding some of the points you have made in your review since these may mislead other customers. But we acknowledge that there have been some missteps during the process.

Samsung also explained where they wished to see adjustments:

1. 함영민님의 리뷰폰이 출시 이전에 제품을 리뷰하신 것으로, 현재 출시된 제품이 아닌 테스트폰임을 명확시 전달.[…]2.리뷰이기 때문에 주관적 견해 중심의 리뷰는 인정하나, 소비자에게 잘못 전달 될 수 있는 제품 기능상의 오인지 정보의 정확한 전달 요청.

1. The smartphone you have reviewed was a test version of the phone. We request that you clarify this is not the phone released on the market. […] 2.Since it is a review, we understand your review is based on your subjective, personal opinion. But still, we ask you to deliver correct information to avoid any misconception the customers might have on our product's functions (due to your review).

Hahm accepted Samsung's points and acknowledged that he holds a greater responsibility as a featured ‘IT Power Blogger’ on the Naver website.

제가 일전에 올린 ‘갤럭시 S2 몹쓸 9가지 단점'에 대한 포스팅이 일일히 열거하지 않아도 아실만한 큰 파장을 일으키고 있습니다. 제가 올린 갤럭시 S2 9가지 단점에 대한 리뷰는 주관적인 의견입니다. 일반 블로거는 그럴 수 있어도 파워 블로거로 이런 주관적 리뷰를 남기는 것은 문제가 있다란 지적에 대해 그리고 과장된 표현이 될 수도 있는 ‘몹쓸'이란 단어를 제목으로 채택한 것에 대해 저도 그 책임감이 중요하다는 것에 대해 다시 한 번 통감하고 있습니다.

As you may know, my post ‘Nine shortcomings of the Unusable Galaxy S2′ has created huge buzz. That post was purely based on my own, personal opinion. But now I fully realize that as a ‘power blogger’, unlike an ordinary blogger, I bear a responsibility in publishing this subjective review and choosing such an exaggerated word as ‘Unusable’ for the title. […]

Because of Samsung's immense power in Korean society, many bloggers have approached this case from a censorship angle, while mainstream media instead focused on the abuse of power by influential bloggers. One news article on Money Today [ko], criticized top bloggers for losing their objectivity while enjoying perks, such as financial benefits from sponsors, free coupons and gift sample packages, and invitations to fancy promotional events. Meanwhile, many bloggers have strongly protested Samsung's behavior as a threat to free speech online.

까칠Ryan wrote [ko] on his Me2Day micro-blog:

이 기사의 뉘앙스를 보아하니 IT기기등의 리뷰를 많이 진행하는 블로거들의 의견을 ‘권력화'라고 매도하면서 소비자의 자유로운 의견개진에 대해 견제를 가하려는 의도가 다분히 엿보입니다. 언론의 자유가 있는만큼 개인적인 자격으로 제품에 대해 어떤 주관적인 평가를 하던지간에 그건 블로거 자신의 개인의견일 뿐이고, 거기에 대해 제조사측에서 포스팅에 대한 수정보완 요청을 하는 행위 자체가 월권처럼 느껴지는건 나뿐인지.

News articles like this, blame bloggers who write reviews of digital gadgets for becoming power figures. I think their intention in criticizing bloggers is to restrain the free exchange of opinions between customers. Since we do have freedom of expression, the blogger's review – no matter whether it is objective or not – should be protected as personal opinion, and a manufacturer filing an adjustment request on a blogger should be defined as the abuser of power. Am I the only one who thinks this way?

Naver and Daum, the nation's two biggest web portals, and other websites specializing in blogs, such as Tistory and Egloos annually select dozens of ‘power bloggers’ in different categories to reward the most prolific bloggers and boost the blogosphere. When you are nominated to be a power blogger, higher readership is guaranteed, and you may be contacted for paid reviews and extra financial benefits from advertisements and sponsorship.

Power blogger badge from Naver.

Power blogger badge from Naver.

These sites also give you a ‘Power Blogger Badge’ for your blog and a gift set. One Naver power blogger, Hilander, posted photos of various gifts he received from Naver. They included gift coupons, business cards and card cases, and even a little crystal trophy.

As power bloggers gained more influence and favors, several started writing reviews that almost sounded like advertisements. More prudent bloggers, such as Hajaj1 commented [ko] that since there are several IT power bloggers who post fraudulent reviews to favor certain brands, Hahm should have been extra careful in writing his review to dispel doubts about his integrity.

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