North Korea's foray into Twitter  prompted a game of online cat-and-mouse with Seoul last year.

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Review of Internet content has been in place since 2008

The commission says it will boost effectiveness and meet growing demands

The announcement sparks a debate among social media users

Seoul CNN  — 

South Korea plans to intensify the review of its social networking sites and smart phone applications to combat a surge in “illegal and harmful” information, government officials said.

The Korea Communications Standards Commission said it will reshuffle departments to make way for a review team that will oversee new media content.

Review of Internet content has been in place since 2008, but the commission said the move will boost effectiveness and meet growing demands.

Social media users and civic groups decried the Thursday announcement, saying it clamps down on freedom of expression.

“This is an authoritarian and anachronistic abuse of power that strips people of their freedom of expression and political freedom by blocking their eyes and ears,” one of South Korea’s largest civic organizations, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, said in a news release.

Critics say the government is using the new measure to clamp down on opposition voices with the upcoming general and presidential elections next year.

“It’s to block out any voices calling on people to participate in the presidential elections next year,” Twitter user bbohea929 wrote.

Another user, csoaea, said “it feels like we’ve gone back 30 years.”

The number of illegal and harmful postings on social networking sites has increased rapidly since 2008 and is expected to grow, according to the government’s standards commission.

Cases deemed illegal for obscenity last year and this year were 41 and 45 respectively, while those violating national security jumped from 28 to 159, according to the commission.

The commission vowed to limit its scope to obscene content deemed inappropriate for minors and that which violates the law.

However, the legal boundaries are ambiguous and include defamation, national security and inciting fear, a major concern for critics.

The standards commission called the concerns “groundless” and said the new process will not influence the formation of public sentiment in the cyber world.