By Park Si-soo
For rapper Tablo
, the leader of hip hop group Epik High, the year 2010 may mark the most grueling chapter of his life - he had been stigmatized as a diploma forger for most of the year before finally being cleared of the allegations.
Police confirmed in October that the 30-year-old musician, whose Korean name is Lee Seon-woong, earned a bachelor's degree in March 2001 and a master's degree in June 2002, both in English literature at Stanford University.
This put an end to a lengthy investigation that was launched in August after Lee filed a libel suit against 22 bloggers who had claimed he falsely promoted himself as a graduate of the prestigious university in the U.S. At the same time, it has thrown a question to society how much defamation in cyberspace can be tolerable.
Nearly two months have passed since the police cleared Tablo
of all diploma forgery allegations and there has been no sign of a similar Tablo-bashing campaign resurfacing.
During that period, a website that led the smear campaign against Lee voluntarily shut down after making a public apology. The prosecution is considering seeking extradition of a Korean-American who was the mastermind behind the campaign.
Yet, it seems that it will take more time for his life to return to normal — wayward on stage and outspoken on TV.
appeared at a five-star hotel in Seoul on Dec. 4 to attend a year-end party for Stanford alumni in South Korea, a rare visit to a public place following the scandal. He took the stage to deliver a brief welcoming address.
"Hi. This is the singer Tablo
, who grappled with a diploma forgery scandal throughout the year", he told his fellow alumni. "In the past, I was never nervous to take the stage before 10,000 people. But now I'm extremely anxious to speak before just 100 people. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my fellow alumni who stood behind me".
The diploma forgery scandal against him fired up in November last year by a group of bloggers who claimed they couldn't find his name on the list of Stanford graduates. It gathered speed just one month after he tied the knot with actress Kang Hye-jung.
Last May, a Tablo-bashing online community, called "Tajinyo", short for "the request to tell the truth about Tablo
" in Korean, opened. Another website, called "Sangjinse", short for "the world where common sense is the truth" in Korean joined the move.
Tens of thousands of people joined the websites and launched a collective "investigation" to uncover evidence proving that Tablo
's Stanford diploma was bogus. Some evidence and testimonies they secured were seemingly reliable, snowballing the controversy and pushing Tablo
deeper into a corner.
In September, four members of "Sangjinse" filed a petition with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office to investigate the musician on suspicion of diploma forgery. In response, he flew to his alma mater in California with an MBC TV crew to be filmed being given a genuine diploma.
Stanford University ran an article featuring the shameful visit on its homepage. In the article, entitled "Rapper-poet Daniel Lee
returns to Stanford to clear his name", the school said the visit was part of Lee's continuing efforts to prove that he attended the university.
It said, "Lee, who graduated from Stanford in 2002 with bachelor's and master's degrees in English, has been the subject of Internet rumors among so-called netizens who accuse him of lying about his Stanford degrees".
Some members of a Tablo-bashing website sought a court injunction against the program's airing in October, saying the content of the program could have been biased in favor of Tablo
and affect the police investigation, which was then underway. But the court dropped the petition.
In the program aired in September as scheduled, Tablo
complained about the netizens as they were undaunted by his repeated efforts to convince them with concrete evidence. "This is not the case about them not trusting me. They just don't want to trust me",he said in tears.
This scandal has spawned the question that the entire society should team up to offer a solution: cyber defamation.
Many observers and legal experts say a series of defamatory actions against Tablo
on the Internet went beyond the tolerable level under the freedom of expression. They call for making a concrete guideline on cyber defamation in order to prevent second and third victims of this kind.
A netizen's comment on the scandal speaks volumes, "Where there is freedom, there is responsibility".