In the hyper-connected country of Asia, activists or people from ethnic minorities are the targets of relentless cyberbullying campaigns. As a result, suicide cases are on the rise.
‘Damn feminist’, ‘psychopath’, ‘use it as dog food’: Like many South Korean public figures, activist Kim Joo-hee has suffered a lot of indignity from a group of cyberstalkers who sometimes get away with it and sometimes drive them victim committed suicide.
South Korea’s cyberbullying crisis is killing more and more people, from K-pop stars like Sulli to lesser-known people like the volleyball player who died in early February.
In a country where sexism is entrenched, feminist denigration of presidential candidates, and misogynistic messages flood online forums, hordes of cyberstalkers can ruin people’s lives with little concern for the world.
YouTube, the carrier of hate
YouTube is the platform of choice for such attacks. A video attacking Kim Joo-hee has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and sparked thousands of comments, including death threats.
“I still feel in danger,” nurse Kim Joo-hee told AFP. “I feel like this will never end unless I end my life and disappear.”
In early February, volleyball player Kim In Hyuk was brutally mocked online and committed suicide after enduring a flood of hate speech and rumors that he was gay.
In January, YouTuber BJ Jammi also took her life. She has been harassed for years after South Korean trolls accused her of being a “men-hating feminist.” Her mother committed suicide in 2019, also because of internet abuse.
Introduction to Anti-Feminism
Anti-feminist South Korean YouTube accounts, some with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, are profiting from the harassment, experts say.
“Prominent YouTube anchors get more attention when they upload videos denouncing feminism and feminists,” University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral researcher Jinsook Kim told AFP.
Women or ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable, and the lack of anti-discrimination laws in South Korea leaves victims defenseless.
“These were not random attacks. They were accused of being feminist or gay,” Jinsook Kim explained, referring to most of the victims, especially BJ Jammi.
Other women known to the public have been victims of “doxxing” – whose personal details have been posted on the internet – from male youtubers who have accused them of a “misunderstanding”.
Some of these YouTubers even filmed live videos of themselves while stalking victims and making rape and death threats in hopes of generating more clicks and ad revenue.
“They continue to produce sensational and hateful content for profit,” laments Jinsook Kim.
In this hyper-connected country, where average internet access is the fastest in the world, female celebrities have been victims of harassment for years.
In 2008, star actress Choi Jin committed suicide after being a victim of cyberbullying and accused of working for loan sharks.
In 2019, K-Pop star Goo Hara committed suicide after falling victim to “revenge porn” by her disgruntled ex-boyfriend. Her friend Shirley, also a singer, killed herself after being attacked, accusing her of not wearing a bra etc.
high profile suicide
The high-profile suicides following the cyberbullying campaign have sparked a wave of emotions and petitions calling for authorities to legislate against such abuses. But, specifically, nothing has changed, and few prosecutions have proven successful.
South Korea is a competitive society with constant stress and pressure, and one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world.
Raphael Rashid, a freelance journalist and commentator based in Seoul, told AFP that anyone who was “considered different from the norm” was at risk of an attack that would be difficult to recover from.
He added that dragged in the mud, their reputations shattered, victims of cyberbullying “feel like they have nowhere to run” and “society cannot tolerate their presence”.
“It feels like the whole world is turning its back on you,” confirmed feminist activist Kim Joo-hee, who admitted to having considered suicide.
According to her, suicide is inevitable as long as law and justice are powerless against trolls. For now, “cyberbullying only stops when the victim dies.”