Communication and social networks play a vital role in the modern world. The role and importance of social networks has been heightened by the advent of the Internet and the new “information age” in which modern society operates. The Internet has had a profound impact upon nearly every society, and it has increasingly assumed indispensable functions. Not only has the Internet changed the way that people communicate and network, but it is also one of the most powerful and far-reaching technological developments known to the world with respect to information exchange, education, business, and entertainment.
As the Internet has evolved, Internet users across the world have embraced various forms of online communication, social networking, and social media through their computers, mobile phones, smart phones, televisions, and even game consoles. Internet users spend significant time using “Web 2.0″ technologies and other World Wide Web tools (collectively “Internet tools”) that enable interactive information sharing, user-centered design, collaboration, and a compilation of collective intelligence. Internet tools include communication platforms such as e-mail, instant messaging, online chatting, and texting. Internet tools also encompass commonly used Web 2.0 tools for social networking and online collaboration purposes (collectively “consumer-generated media” or “CGM”), including social media platforms such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, and online video sharing websites such YouTube, microblogging platforms such as Twitter, social networking websites such as Facebook, and virtual communities. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds expend significant time connecting, communicating, collaborating, and even entertaining themselves together with others through CGM and other Internet tools.
With their increasing popularity, CGM and other Internet tools have given rise to many complex legal and ethical issues ranging from enforceable online commercial obligations to personal rights on the Internet to digital criminal acts. From a commercial perspective, the law has reacted to the efforts of individuals, entities, and organizations reaching out to Internet and CGM users for profit. Internet, technology, and information-based companies naturally rely upon the Internet and CGM to promote and deliver products, services, and information. Even the most conventional “brick and mortar” businesses have rushed to establish an online presence on both country native and global Web 2.0 platforms. On a personal level, individual rights and governmental interests often directly clash in an online environment due to the Internet’s speed, relative anonymity, and lack of regulation. As Internet and CGM users electronically disseminate vast amounts of information, governments and individuals are subject to closer scrutiny, increasing criticism, embarrassing truths, rumors, and even harmful untruths. Communications circulated via the Internet can quickly spiral into public relations quagmires or even full-fledged political movements. Accordingly, lawmakers and courts are increasingly tempted to use the law to regulate the Internet and restrict CGM, often at the expense of individual rights. As such, the scope of individual privacy rights on the Internet and privacy obligations of website operators continues to generate much debate. Issues related to freedom of expression, voting, and censorship on the Internet give rise to substantial discussion as well.
Asia is no exception to the recent Internet phenomenon and ensuing legal dilemmas. In fact, Japan and South Korea rank among the world’s leaders in technological innovation and Internet penetration. As of June 2010, China boasted over 420 million Internet users or “netizens.” Asians living in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and other parts of Asia are increasingly active on the Internet as well. In the digital age, many Asian societies have also embraced CGM and other online communication mediums. In Asian societies with Confucian traditions, conventional social networks have traditionally played a prominent role, particularly in comparison with Western nations. This prominent role is increasingly translating itself into online platforms and forums.