Thursday, March 3, 2011

There was a time when "BOK" meant Bank of Korea...

... but now everyone in the K-blogosphere knows it stands for Blackout Korea. You know, that site that simultaneously gained praise and infamy for posting pictures of South Koreans who presumably were passed out from excessive alcohol consumption.

When it first came on the scene in late 2009, I chimed in with thunderous ambivalence:
Maybe I'm too jaded, but I find this site more disturbing than amusing. I'm referring to the content of the pictures, not the fact that someone made a blog about it (hell, it's a chronic problem in Seoul's "entertainment districts" and it's worth chronicling — chronicling the chronic heh heh). I see people passed out and I think of the dangers of alcohol poisoning. I see people staggering in or toward the street and I imagine they're about to become roadkill.
At the time, my reservations about the site stemmed in part from my feeling that that the subjects in some of the photo were just one or two bad decisions away from death or a serious maiming, which made it not that funny to me.

But I had no idea at the time that BOK would inadvertently end up creating a race to the bottom of sorts, a competition to provide the most outrageous picture so far, which would eventually get upped by someone else. This brought the posers — meaning people posing with their subjects, not phonies — those who made funny faces or stood near or behind the passed-out subject in what were supposed to be amusing scenes. And then came the assaults. Those who apparently put things on the passed-out subject, who was now a victim.

These were posted and responded to with relish by some, but a lot of others started expressing reservations, including yours truly:
Though I did suggest last year that the site was somewhat amusing, I agree that a few of the posted pictures do cross the line (the Marmite assault, the simulated ass rape, and perhaps this one below). I also hadn't been aware that, despite the supposed sociological justification for the site (see the interview link), the owner had been deliberately avoiding posting pictures of blacked-out foreigners because, "when I was starting it out I wanted to establish the site as a mostly Korean phenomenon." A tad distorting, methinks, but okay, at least now he's got pics like those familiar to anyone whose college life included keggers, except it's outside.

Frankly, it hadn't occurred to me last year that a string of such posts would encourage more and more outrageous behavior on the part of the picture taker. I would have thought that most of the shutterbugs would realize that legal considerations in the ROK over invasion of privacy might make it a tad imprudent to be making the happy face in such photos, much less the randier scenes.
To his credit the BOK site owner has removed the first link just above and removed the most incriminating photos in the second link.

Still, it caused quite an outcry. The Marmot called it one of the most poorly conceived blogs he's seen in his time.

And then the Korean media discovered it. That's usually where all hell breaks loose, but the response has been surprisingly calm. I mean, it's not like the amateur photogs were making and posting amateur porn or anything (see also here).

Let's face it: if you come to a new country and act like dip$hits, then you're going to piss off some of your guests. Naturally, there were some people among the Korean netizenry who were perturbed, and they responded angrily. A blog called "English teachers out" (ETO) was put up, received an angry response from anglophone K-bloggers, and then disappeared.

BOK's site owner himself responded, and I began to rethink my own public opinion on the matter. In response to BOK's protest that "there are blacked out foreigners on the site... there are less of them...because there are less of them in the country!":
That seems a tad disingenuous, since in the past you had been deliberately avoiding posting pictures of blacked-out foreigners because, "when I was starting it out I wanted to establish the site as a mostly Korean phenomenon."
Still, I sympathized with the guy and his contributors being so viciously attacked. ETO in particular was ill-conceived on so many levels, but one reason in particular was that not all the foreigners in the pictures were English teachers, a group it seemed hell-bent on demonizing. Moreover, many English teachers were outspokenly opposed to the BOK site and (as if this needs clarifying) most English teachers never contributed pictures to the site!

ETO is now gone, but a new site has emerged on the horizon: Blackout Mirror. What is glaringly wrong about BOM is that it attempts to go after the foreigners posing in the pictures. The BOM site owner, a person going by the userid Bintz. It includes some of the more incriminating photos of the picture-taking foreigners, with an appeal for readers to identify the foreigners.

And this is why I was prompted — nay, compelled — to speak out.

Bintz is angry, but I wrote a simple appeal asking him to take down the site (in the comments section of a well-thought letter by regular Monster Island reader Schplook).

I wrote to Bintz to tell him I understand his anger and his annoyance. I myself have railed against the knee-jerk Korea-bashing that goes on in the Korea-related English blogs and in real life. I really hate it, and sometimes I'm tempted to throw up my hands and just say, "God, if you hate the country and the people so much, why do you stay here?!"

BUT, I told him, I think his response may not only be counterproductive, but may also hurt innocent people. The BOK site owner himself is almost certainly not in any of those pictures, so even if the goal is to get revenge, it's almost impossible.

Another very important thing that Bintz and other angry Korean netizens should consider is that some of the foreigners in the pictures may themselves be innocent victims. They may have been with friends who decided to take the picture and they had no idea someone would post the for-private-consumption picture online for all the world to see. Some might not realize how the badly the posing makes them look. This is especially true if the "blacked-out" person is someone they are friends or acquaintances with. To put it simply, we don't know the context of the photos nor the motivation for contributing them.

And just as BOK's pictures may violate photography-related privacy laws, BOM may also be violating Korean law by putting up "information" about someone (in the form of an image) with the intent to defame them. I'm no lawyer, but it seems this is serious business, for much the same reason BOK posting them may be.

More importantly, however, it is wrong to go after someone "in real life" for something they say or do online (especially if it is not illegal or causing harm to someone else, as is the case with some of BOM's reposted pictures). I have been attacked several times "in the real world" by people who simply did not like what I wrote (foreigners and Koreans both), people who tried to get me fired, get me kicked out of school, or otherwise disrupt my personal life.

It is wrong, plain and simple.

Angry netizens like Bintz should also realize that if they really cause damage to these idiots' livelihood, someone might turn around and do the same to them. That's the problem: The cycle of revenge for revenge never ends.

I urge Bintz to take down that site. Be the better man.


  1. Well, whether the posers gave their permission or not to post the photos, they should take responsibility for their own behavior. So actually, I'm not really sorry that there is a mirror site for "Blackout Korea". Some people need to recognize the consequences of their actions and I believe that most of the people posing did give permission to have their images posted.

  2. Thank you for your advice. I agree with you, so just returned into a peace(?). :P

    I can't disclose the faces of posers. The reason has been here :

    At the day when I published the post, a poser(poster) pleased me to blur his(her) face. Thus I know the site owner doesn't have minds to consider posters(photo suppliers) positions in the real world.

    I can't do such things (because you are here).

    ps But if they upload a terrible photo again then I will copy it into the mirror site with blurred faces & kind outgoing-link to source :P

  3. To itissaid

    I appreciate your supports indeed. (I saw several comments written by you.)

    Let's step back and reduce mental-energy consumption for our healthy lives :D

    Thank you and best regards,

  4. I think a compromise could have been reached already if Bintz would address me on any one of the attempts I've made to reach out to him to start an actual dialogue.

    1. I would consider making changes to the site after a rational and logical discussion free of insults where we can discuss differences of opinion

    2. By ignoring and swatting aside any attempts to reason, Bintz is only adding fuel to the fire. What good would making any changes to the site do if we're still going to attract all this netizen rage? If the damage is already done, why concede? And why take any posts down if he continues to harp on them after their removal?

    For all the talk Bintz does about human rights and humanity, he sure seems to think very little about Freedom of Speech.

  5. To BOK owner

    Why I try to have strong & one-directional voice:
    1. There have been already several worries about BOK from its start but ignored by you.
    2. There were already removal-asks of photo suppliers but ignored by you. (you removed them just hours ago.)
    3. There were several visitors who tried to legitimize the moral hazard of BOK in my blog but some of them were distinguished as posters(posers in photos).

    'freedom of speech' is a good word. But BOK is a simple place to speech freely about Mission & Execution in collusion in the real world. There were real actions and your posts just showed what happened in the real world.

    If I were you, if I realized my faults, then my first action would be sincere apology in public as a post and then reform the site.

    I hope you to take 'pure apology'.


  6. Thank you for responding.

    To address your points in order...

    1. There are always going to be worries about websites of this sort, and they weren't ignored -- but I can't take every single worry or concern thrown my way into account. We are all different people with different backgrounds and different wants and ideas. If we want change in others, we should persuade, not demand and threaten. Historically, the latter two are much more likely to cause a course to continue than to stop it.

    2. The photos which I recently removed, while being complained about by a lot of people (as well as the opposite), were not removed because of removal-asks by the photo submitters. Every removal takedown request we have EVER received by email we have honored -- and there were two of them last week.

    If someone told you otherwise, I am afraid they are mistaken. We haven't been responding to emails lately for obvious reasons, so the only area I can understand this may have caused some confusion is that they took a non-response to their email as a "no", rather than checking the site to see if their photos have been removed.

    That being said, we only honor takedown requests from people who were the original submitters or who are in the photo -- not just anybody who doesn't like the submission. Usually we ask for verification of this before removal, but we have never denied a user request from someone who asks/proves their right to request removal.

    3. I don't understand when you talk about things like "moral hazard", and this is why these discussions need to take place. Morality is never absolute, and we're on a slippery slope of philosophy. I know Koreans and Westerners have vast chasms of differences between them, but "disrespect" and, if I may use slang, "shittiness" are not against the law, nor do they make me a criminal or a terrorist or a nazi. They may make a person an asshole, though.

    I understand where you're coming from, but you must understand that in the Western world photos of people on their internet (without their permission) are extremely common. I'm going to post some here, not as a case in itself justifying what I'm doing, but to give you a glimpse of perspective:

    Now, granted, the circumstances are different in all but the first few. Given the fact that these exist, it is going to be very difficult to bully someone into cooperating by threatening and calling them immoral, but I am definitely not immune to reason and seeing other perspectives, which is why we are talking right now.

    " But BOK is a simple place to speech freely about Mission & Execution in collusion in the real world. There were real actions and your posts just showed what happened in the real world."

    I don't know what this means, I am sorry. Can you please clarify? Freedom of speech includes writing and ideas, I assume it falls under the right to publish photos as well.

    THAT BEING SAID, as I have mentioned, we have definitely been considering site reform, but this does beg the question: What would your opinion be if we were to make it so that no person photographed on the site would be identifiable by their faces (unless, in the cases of the posers, they want to be)?

    Would you still be vehemently opposed to the idea of the site?

  7. To BOK owner

    You only have been focusing on how you could influence the Korean society without taking any responsibility following your operations. You must accept a fact that you are not forward cultured people with your posters all.

    This is my last teach what I can give you :
    "And yet who else is there to take care of society, its problems and its ills? These organizations collectively are society... Power must always be balanced by responsibility; otherwise it becomes tyranny. And organizations do have power." - Peter F. Drucker

    Try to fix yourself first. You seem to have serious illness in your minds.


  8. It's interesting that this discussion is taking place here, but I suppose it's a good a place as any.

    I'm in agreement with Itissaid -- people have to take responsibility for themselves.

    As for the Bintz/Blackout Korea debate, I think I'm done. I wrote Bintz (of Blackout Mirror site) a letter explaining my position and trying to reason with him. I gave him permission to publish it (and he did) but was disappointed to see this:

    "Just one thing I couldn't wipe out in my minds.. "they are terrorists in Korea." :'( "

    So, yeah... I have nothing more to say.

    As well as my letter to BOM, I went back to BOK to see if anything had changed. I saw only a lot of excuses and (after wasting my time reading the feeble self-justifications) decided it wasn't worth commenting there. (Also, there were a lot of angry comments from both sides... I couldn't bring myself to wade through all that, so just gave up.)

    A silent observer from this moment onwards,



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