Deaths of 2 young public figures spark calls for tougher anti-cyberbullying measures

Posted on : 2022-02-07 17:11 KST Modified on : 2022-02-07 17:11 KST
Both of the deceased had been targets of harassment and attacks by male-dominated online communities
courtesy of Getty Images Bank
courtesy of Getty Images Bank

After two public figures, both under the age of 30, died in apparent suicides late last week, there has been an outpouring of calls for urgent measures against cyberbullying that targets specific individuals.

Kim In-hyeok, a pro volleyball player who played for the Samsung Bluefangs, was found dead at his home on Friday. Twitch streamer Cho Jang-mi, who went by BJ Jammi online, died in an apparent suicide on Saturday. Both Cho and Kim were 27 at the time of their deaths. Both had long spoken out about the toll of malicious comments and baseless criticisms leveled against them on the internet before their deaths.

According to a post on Cho’s Twitch page uploaded Saturday, the poster, who identified himself as Cho’s uncle, wrote, “Jangmi suffered greatly from depression due to countless malicious online comments and rumors.” He continued, “She even wrote a will, which makes clear how difficult every day was for Jangmi, and how much harassment she was subjected to.”

Meanwhile, a police officer who investigated the circumstances of Kim’s death told the Hankyoreh that a memo found at the scene of Kim’s death “did not contain any mention of malicious online comments.” Kim previously took to Instagram last August, writing, “Please stop harassing me with malicious comments; you’ve never met me and don’t know anything about me. I can’t stand it.”

Both Kim and Cho were targets of attacks and harassment by users of male-dominated online communities. Since being called out by certain YouTubers for making a “misandrist gesture” in 2019, Cho became a subject of perpetual harassment by online commenters, who blasted her via chat messages during her live streams.

On the other hand, Kim was known to have suffered from malicious Instagram direct messages and comments in the vein of “Why do you put makeup on when you’re a man” and “You look gay/transgender” — all because his harassers believed he regularly wore makeup.

The number of online harassment cases in South Korea has been skyrocketing in recent years. According to Korean National Police Agency statistics accessed Sunday, the number of criminally charged cyber defamation cases increased by 118.3% from 8,880 in 2014 to 19,388 in 2020, with related arrests doubling by 102.5% from 6,241 cases to 12,638 cases in the same time period.

Online harassment has tended to target vulnerable groups like women and minors. Kim Soo-ah, a professor of communications at Seoul National University, said, “Online abuse tends to occur against vulnerable populations such as women and minorities, celebrities being one of them. [. . .] A misogynist online culture especially affected Cho’s case.”

Hong Sung-soo, professor of law at Sookmyung Women’s University, also commented, “Cyber defamation cases tend to focus on vulnerable groups with less social power.”

Many are calling for the government and information and communication service providers to regulate defamatory expressions online and step up efforts to address online harassment.

Lee Seung-hyun, a researcher at Yonsei University’s Institute for Legal Studies, said, “Information and communication service providers currently are not able to actively regulate problematic expressions due to potential legal consequences. An overhaul of existing laws is necessary so that [service providers] can take on an active role in regulation.”

Kim Soo-ah also noted, “Information and communication service platforms should take attacks against individuals seriously and devise a system in which, when a specific individual reports defamatory remarks and insults, the individual’s account is more fully monitored so that attacks against them can be detected.”

By Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter

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