Stalkers turn Korean women’s streaming jobs into living nightmares

Posted on : 2022-12-22 16:42 KST Modified on : 2022-12-22 16:42 KST
Streamers report that many viewers believe sending money grants them carte blanche for unacceptable – sometimes dangerous – behavior
Seo Mi-do’s streaming setup (Jang Na-rye/The Hankyoreh)
Seo Mi-do’s streaming setup (Jang Na-rye/The Hankyoreh)

At 5:18 am on Sept. 3, an internet streamer who goes by Seo Mi-do, 31, jolted awake, startled by the sound of buttons being pressed on the lock into her apartment.

She wasn’t expecting anyone to be coming to the family home at the time. But suddenly a man in a black hat and mask covering his face was standing next to the shoe rack at the entrance of Seo’s apartment.

While Seo was frozen in fear, one of her family members shouted at the intruder, “Who are you?” Startled at the sound of a man’s voice, the masked trespasser quickly ran out of the house after saying “Oh, sh*t.”

“I'm afraid of what might have happened to me if I had been alone,” Seo told the Hankyoreh in an in-person meeting.

It was only during the police investigation that Seo found out that the intruder, Mr. A, 42, was actually a viewer of her AfreecaTV streaming shows.

Every time Seo did a live show, Mr. A left chat messages often and sent her “star balloons” — virtual currency used on AfreecaTV — on several occasions. The intruder was a regular viewer and Seo even knew his nickname.

It seems that the intruder was able to figure out the combination to Seo’s lock through information he had gathered by watching her shows. The lock was set to open when Seo’s birth date was entered.

“When I start up a live stream, it goes on for about three to four hours, so there are many times when I end up mentioning personal information without even being aware of it,” Seo said.

“Viewers are quickly able to piece together the steamer’s date of birth or the closest subway station to their house. No matter how careful you are, it’s hard not to reveal any personal information while talking for hours,” Seo added.

During the police investigation, Mr. A reportedly said he broke into Seo’s house because he was “curious” about how she lived. After two months of investigating the matter, the Bundang Police Station in Gyeonggi Province charged Mr. A with trespassing and then referred the case to prosecutors.

The police confiscated the intruder’s cell phone and computer and reviewed the possible application of the anti-stalking law. In the end, however, police found it difficult to charge him with stalking since, besides this one case, they couldn’t find evidence of Mr. A continuously following or contacting Seo. This made Seo all the more uneasy.

“It’s not an easy decision to move because there’s a lease period and other reasons,” Seo said. “And I don’t know why it’s the victim who has to run away.”

Seo was often approached by viewers who told her they could teach her about camera settings or by others who, having never met her in person, exhibited obsessive behavior such as wanting to date her or stalking her.

Due to the nature of streaming, which requires intimate communication with viewers in real time in order to make money, Seo says there was no way out of being taken advantage of.

“When viewers send me star balloons, I get tons of requests along the lines of asking me to go on a date, to say ‘I love you’ to a specific username, or to put on revealing clothes. Obsessive [behavior] is the most disturbing of the cases, but [they] think it’s ok since they sent me money,” Seo says.

Sexual harassment, swearing and other attacks on streamers’ character were also commonplace.

“Even if you are sexually harassed in front of a bunch of viewers, the person concerned is practically demanding you grin and bear it because they sent you star balloons. [But] I really couldn’t control the look on my face,” Seo shared.

Tired of all this, Seo filed a complaint with the police against four viewers for sexual harassment. The police are still investigating.

Seo wears a smart watch provided to her by the police as she speaks to the Hankyoreh. The make of the watch has been disguised at the request of the police. (Jang Na-rye/The Hankyoreh)
Seo wears a smart watch provided to her by the police as she speaks to the Hankyoreh. The make of the watch has been disguised at the request of the police. (Jang Na-rye/The Hankyoreh)

Unable to bear it any longer, Seo eventually quit livestreaming after six months.

“I was tormented by the thought that my communication with [viewers] to receive star balloons may have triggered romantic emotions in them,” Seo said.

Seo’s experience is a clear-cut case of stalking, taking advantage of the streamers’ weaknesses as people who communicate closely with their audience. But many streamers are reluctant to take legal action, or even to report incidents of stalking immediately.

Streamers share personal information about themselves — raising the risk of leaks — in order to narrow the distance between themselves and their viewers. The issue also ties in with “star balloon” currency support, a crucial source of revenues.

Lee In-hwan, an attorney with the law firm Jeha, has represented several streamers in stalking-related cases.

“Entertainers are usually seen as objects of admiration from afar, whereas streamers are often perceived as closer to us and not much different from the rest of us,” he explained.

“Looking at the motivations behind stalkers’ crimes, you find a lot of cases where they mistake responses to real-time chats as ‘intimacy’ or misinterpret them as quasi-romantic feelings,” he added.

It was for reasons like this that one streamer in her 20s surnamed Kim, who has been streaming for over a year, moved last month to an apartment with closed-circuit cameras installed on every floor.

After Kim mentioned in passing on one broadcast that she wasn’t feeling well, she arrived at her apartment to find medicine hanging from her door handle. On one occasion, she found a man, who identified himself as a fan, listening with his ear against her door. She saw another fan repeatedly waiting at a coffee shop near her home whenever she came out.

When she asked how they had discovered where she lived, she was told that her window was slightly visible in the broadcasts, and the names of nearby businesses could be read through it.

Fans also approached the family members she lived with.

“I always tell the fans how frightening this is, and they just say, ‘What’s wrong? We’re not hurting you. We’re being nice,’” Kim said.

“For streamers, moving to a new location means paying tens of millions of won [US$10,000+] to set our broadcasting equipment back up, but I just couldn’t put my family through this anymore. It wasn’t an easy decision.”

Kim filed a report about the man she had found with his ear against her door, but since then, she has not been reporting other possible cases of stalking to the police. Her first report ended with the police declining to press charges due to a lack of evidence.

“I saw a viewer in front of my own door, and they wouldn’t press charges,” she said. “Word has already spread among the fans that I’m a ‘terrible person who reports her fans even when they’ve done nothing wrong,’ and there’s been a big drop in star balloons, which are a source of revenue for me.”

“There are a lot of other cases where streamers lose money raising issues over it. In most cases, they won’t report it unless it’s really serious,” she added.

The shock led Kim to take a break from broadcasting, but she has since resumed.

“I need to keep broadcasting, and I need the star balloons,” she said.

By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles