Ko Yu-min, a 25 years old former Hyundai Construction volleyball player, committed suicide on July 31, 2020. She played women's volleyball for the Hyundai Construction team in the left field position from the 2019 to 2020 season. She left the team on March 1, 2020 due to the criticism she received after making numerous mistakes when her position changed on the volleyball side. There are increasing calls for the coaching staff to assume responsibility for their part in her death while the Korean Volleyball Association (KOVA) is calling on major portal sites including Naver, Daum and Nate to improve policing of their commenting functions on sports articles. On August 3, Naver suspended the sports news comment service in response to KOVA's request, and Nate and Daum also suspended their sports commentary services. In addition, strong sanctions against viewers who posted malicious comments during live TV broadcast services of sporting events. This included blocking malicious comments on live chat feeds in real time through the use of AI cleanbot.
|▲ Ko Yu-min, a female professional volleyball player. (Photo from Segye Ilbo)|
Ko Yu-min is not the only celebrity to commit suicide due to online harassment. Last winter, people were heartbroken to hear the shocking news that Sulli and Gu Ha-ra had taken their lives due to increased negative social commentary. Since 2009, Sulli gained huge popularity as a member of a girl group f(x). She was always the center of attention while at the same time finding herself a victim of numerous rumors unsuitable for her young age. Some of them were vicious lies that she was pregnant, drugged, and attempted suicide. After she made public her romantic relationship with singer Choi Ja and left the group f(x), sexual harassment and criticism of her character and behavior only increased. Things got even hotter when Sulli posted unconventional photos on Instagram that a young female celebrity had never tried. Not wearing a bra and other sexy photos became controversial issues, leading to social debate, but she continued her personal activities, even when she was criticized for the trivial actions. No one expected her to take her own life on October 14, 2019.
Gu Ha-ra debuted in the girl group KARA in 2008 and enjoyed great popularity. However, controversy arose over a legal battle with her ex-boyfriend Choi Jong-beom in 2018. In the process, it was revealed that she was illegally filmed in an intimate act and was being blackmailed by her ex with release of the video. As a result of the information release, a second round of assaults on her character continued, including sexual harassment. She eventually took her own life on November 24, 2019.
After the shocking deaths of these two stars, malicious comments on social media sites have emerged as an important social issue. Ko Yu-min’s death shed light on the fact that malicious comments are not only a problem for the entertainment industry, but also affect high profile athletes. Park Ji-soo, a female professional basketball player from KB stars, posted comments on SNS, complaining of depression caused by the malicious comments she was exposed to. "There are several hurtful comments that have been slandering her over time via Instagram direct messages," an official spokesperson for the athlete said. Speed skater Kim Bo-reum who was embroiled in a controversy over bullying her teammate during the PyeongChang Olympics also suffered from excessive online harassment. While the skater issued a public apology for her own behavior, the comments did not let up. There were personal attacks of her character and insults regarding her skills. She later said on social media, "I wondered if I could ever return to the sport because I was so depressed.” There are many more cases like these. Last year, HeungKuk-Life volleyball player Lee Jae-yeong was a victim of malicious messaging via Instagram. The user mentioned her mother’s real name saying “I regret that I didn’t push your mother down the stairs when she was pregnant you.” In response Lee said, “I can suppress everything except this kind of threat. How can any human be like this?” She revealed the malicious user’s ID to the public and dropped out of Instagram closing her own page. Leeco Sports Agency, the group that handles professional baseball players Park Byung-ho and Kang Jung-ho, has also announced legal action will be taken against perpetrators of malicious online comments. In addition, Oh Ji-hwan of the pro baseball team LG, who complained of negative remarks being made about his performance and military service exemption. He also said he would take legal action against the derogatory remarks.
|▲ Park Ji-soo, woman basketball player from KB stars. (Photo from SBS News)|
Jeong Hae-sang, professor of in the DKU, Dept. of Law said the degree of punishment is different between spreading false and true information. This is because damaging a person’s reputation with slanderous or false information has stronger a stronger social impact. These actions are covered under the nation’s libel laws and they carry more severe penalties for those who commit the crimes.
However, in the case where commentators are merely stating facts, in order to preserve our right to freedom of expression, victims should pursue compensation for psychological damage rather than criminal penalties. Unfortunately, there are no precedents that can be cited because most accusations were settled privately or the value of the punishment was slight. For instance a candidate for student president posted a message on social media asking for advice on what candidates needed to be careful about. SNS participants mentioned a specific person by name causing harm to their reputation.
The professor believes there is no need to revise or add to the current law regarding online harassment, but instead a need to strengthen and utilize greater levels of punishment, including threats of imprisonment. He said that the courts have made penalties for online harassment too low, so they do not serve as a real deterrent against the practice. He suggested that if compensation for injured parties was in the millions or tens of millions of won, people would think twice before posting malicious comments online. He also said police need to take charges of online harassment more seriously and help victims build a case where the perpetrators can be held accountable. In other words, the problem of online harassment is not with the law, but rather with the strength behind its enforcement.
Online harassment is a serious problem nowadays exacerbated by the way the legal system has been applying the law that govern the ‘Information Communications Network Act’. In future, society would be much better off if people acted with prudence on the Internet and thought twice before posting malicious remarks. It is important to remember that someone can be irrevocably wounded as a result of online harassment. A safe and clean Internet culture is not out of reach. In fact, it begins with users and ends on their fingertips.
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