South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday that the spread of "false and incorrect" information through the Internet and spam email is threatening the people's rational thinking and mutual trust.
Lee made the remarks in an address at the opening of the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy in Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday.
Lee's fledgling administration has been beleaguered by a spate of unconfirmed cyberspace rumors associating mad cow disease with the consumption of American beef.
Lee has been mired in political turmoil, with his public approval ratings plunging below 20 percent, as thousands of opponents of his government's decision in mid-April to lift a ban on U.S. beef imports have held daily candlelight protest rallies for nearly 40 days, demanding a renegotiation of the beef deal.
Government officials and political watchers say that groundless cyberspace rumors about the dangers of mad cow disease, together with the government's failure to adequately address public fear of the deadly disease, have further worsened the domestic political storm over the past month.
In his address to the leaders of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Lee also warned that the Internet could be poisonous to mankind in the absence of mechanisms to guarantee mutual confidence in cyberspace. He called for OECD-wide efforts to prevent abuse of the Internet and create a safer Internet-based society.
Lee stressed that he is convinced the Internet, if adequately utilized, could greatly contribute to resolving hordes of problems facing mankind, including energy shortages, climate change and an aging society.
"The Internet-based economy promotes the development of a knowledge-based economy and contributes to new economic growth and job creation," said the president.
"But the Internet is faced with new challenges and tasks to resolve, due to a lingering trust problem. The power of the Internet could be poisonous to us all, if public confidence fails," said the president, citing a rising number of Internet virus infection and hacking incidents worldwide.
Lee also said the absence of mutual trust could threaten the development of Internet-based commercial transactions.