Before social media giants such as Facebook and Instagram, there were home-grown social media heroes like Cyworld. It is widely considered to be one of Korea’s first social media website that gained nationwide popularity, popularized between 2000 to 2010. In the hope of reviving its popularity, Cyworld announced that it will be restarting its social media service in May 2021.
At Cyworld’s peak, the number of users reached nearly 25 million people, and Cyworld was what some considered part of their identity. However, the emergence and popularity of other social media platforms drove Cyworld to shut down its operations in 2020.
Along with its restart, Cyworld- inspired Korean terms are foreseeing a comeback as well. Ilchon is a term that actually refers to a form of online friendship akin to two people following each other on Instagram. Other unique words that are riding this popular wave are minihompy, essentially the same as a Facebook profile page, and Dotori, which is the currency of Cyworld with which users can purchase accessories and even music to decorate their profiles.
Many Koreans that are from the first generation of social media users were thrilled about the news that Cyworld will be restarting its service this May, some reveling in a state of nostalgia.
“I am glad that Cyworld is restarting its service because I have a lot of memories there, and Dotoris left to use,” said Choi Hwa-yon, a senior majoring in Climate and Energy Systems Engineering.
Also echoing these memories was Park Do-yeon from the Department of Early Childhood Education, who was even counting down the days until Cyworld’s restarting day.
“What is memorable about Cyworld is that you can decorate your page and communicate with other people,” Park said. “But the greatest factor would definitely be the nostalgia.”
Revisiting Cyworld for many is a treasure box of memories from what many would consider a past- life, from forgotten photos to posts on the social media site. However, there are others who are concerned about what they had posted online in the early days of social media, not thinking that it would be stored on servers and other parts of the internet.
This is raising concerns about the idea that people have the right to be forgotten online, which does not seem to be the norm today, as every online post is scrutinized, or even having some posts dug up from the past that severely damage current reputations.
In Korea, this debate sparked a nationwide conversation, and in July 2020, it culminated in a proposal coming in the form of the Cyworld Memories Protection Act. The Cyworld Memories Protection Act will be able to consolidate consumers as agents of information. Under the current law, however, if a company owning customer’s personal information strikes, all information must be destroyed. Therefore, there is a sparse chance that Cyworld’s minihompy data will be restored.
In May 2020, when Cyworld’s business registration was canceled due to tax arears, it became difficult to preserve the data of 20 million users. 30 percent of the data had been lost, and users cannot receive compensation even if the data is completely discarded due to the closure of the company.
The Cyworld Memories Protection Act strengthens individual information sovereignty by allowing users to demand immediate transfer of personal information and data to companies to prevent users from losing their data unknowingly on the internet. The act, unfortunately, does not fully protect Cyworld memories, but will be a bill to prevent a second “Cyworld crisis.”
However, in today’s data driven age, with the company coming back online along with everyone’s data, this has raised ethical concerns - the right to remain unforgotten and the right to be forgotten online will be a flashpoint in the coming months.