Professional volleyball player Kim In Hyeok and BJ Jo Jang Mi have passed away after suffering from cyber violence on YouTube and many other online platforms for a long time.
On February 16, the Korea JoongAng Daily published an article about the issue of unverified rumors that are spreading on YouTube and causing serious consequences to many people, including Kpop stars. According to Korea JoongAng Daily, groundless rumors and misinformation are being uncontrollably picked up by YouTubers, and those who specialize in making videos with such content. These people are labeled “cyber wreckers” in Korea.
This term refers to YouTubers who collect the most discussed information on social networks and then add their opinions to attract viewers and subscribers. These YouTubers even upload provocative images or words with the intention to spark controversy.
Korea JoongAng Daily pointed out that most of the sources of information presented by these YouTubers are not reliable. They make videos mainly based on short stories or anonymous posts on online communities. They deliberately spread negative rumors, incite controversy and create backlash. All for the purpose of increasing views, attracting subscribers and ultimately gaining profit.
Most of the time, the targets of such videos are politicians and celebrities, since the information, rumors and controversies surrounding them are endless.
In 2021, many K-pop idols and Korean actors were accused of school violence in the past. At that time, the cyber wreckers immediately created videos based on these scandals. They even edited scenes of these celebrities appearing on variety shows to compare.
BTS’s V recently spoke up to voice his frustration when a YouTube channel falsely reported that he was dating the daughter of a chaebol family. This person even said V was drunk during a live broadcast.
This Youtuber came under fierce criticism by BTS fans, but the number of views on his video kept increasing. Since then, this YouTuber has continued to post more videos centering on other BTS members and their dating rumors.
Korea JoongAng Daily cited data from NoxInfluencer – a statistics and analysis website for YouTube users. Accordingly, the channel that spread false rumors about V earns a stable monthly profit from 27.7 million won (23,100 USD) to 48.3 million won.
This YouTuber also posted videos exposing the fake fashion items that influencer Song Ji Ah (FreeZia) wore in her Instagram posts as well as on the reality dating show Single’s Inferno. The number of subscribers of this controversial channel was about 5,000 people in November 2021 and increased by more than 40,000 people within 4 months.
Some cyber wreckers even openly promote their channels by revealing that they have been sued by celebrities.
The responsibility of YouTube
Korea JoongAng Daily commented that YouTubers reporting and spreading unverified information seems harmless, but in fact, it results in serious consequences as it is the source of many malicious online comments.
In early February, two Korean celebrities committed suicide because they could no longer endure cyber bullying. Before their deaths, they were frequently the victims of cyber wreckers and hateful commenters.
The 26-year-old Daejeon Samsung Bluefangs volleyball player Kim In Hyeok was found dead at his home on February 4. He often received malicious comments on his looks and sexual orientation. In August 2021, Kim In Hyeok wrote on his personal Instagram, “I can’t stand malicious comments anymore. I’ve endured them for a decade.”
Only two days later, Jo Jang Mi or BJ Jammi (27 years old) was confirmed by relatives to have passed away after a long time suffering from depression. She is a famous BJ in Korea who was attacked by online viewers and many YouTube accounts because of an incident in 2019.
During a 2019 broadcast, Jo Jang Mi made a hand gesture that many Korean men consider to be pro-feminism and man-hating. Jo Jang Mi apologized twice but still constantly encountered negative comments.
Many YouTube accounts then took this story to earn views, even giving Jo Jang Mi the nickname “megal”. Megal originates from Megalia – one of the largest radical feminist communities in Korea that shut down in 2017.
A petition by the Blue House was filed on February 7th to “strongly punish the perpetrators of YouTube” and those who witch-hunted Jo Jang Mi to the end of her life. The petition has been signed by more than 216,000 people as of February 16th.
After Jo Jang Mi passed away, a YouTube account named PPKKa apologized and admitted part of the responsibility in the death of female BJ. PPKKa, together with many other YouTube channels that have attacked Jo Jang Mi.
Psychology Professor Lim Myung Ho from Dankook University told the Korea JoongAng Daily: “Cyber wreckers don’t think their actions are crimes. They don’t think of their actions as a form of violence nor are they aware of the amount of pain they cause their victims,”
“As for malicious comments and hate speech, it’s herd mentality. Not one but a group of perpetrators was formed to align with each other. To prove that they’re ‘right’, they attack others and believe that is how they receive attention, seek acceptance and feel superior. They believe they have a good reason or cause to attack others,” the professor continued.
Professor Hong Sung Cheol from the Department of Communication and Visual Arts at Kyonggi University believes that the mass consumption of content from cyber wreckers is due to the fact that they provide information that traditional media does not.
“This phenomenon is related to voyeurism. People want to know stories about other people but not information provided by traditional media. However, the information these wreckers share is not new. They are mostly collages of articles,” said Professor Hong Sung Cheol.
After the deaths of Kim In Hyeok and Jo Jang Mi, the Korean public called for punishment of YouTube accounts that spread fake news. According to Korea JoongAng Daily, social media platforms like YouTube need to take a stronger stance in evaluating and moderating content that users upload.
Wreckers deserve proper punishments
By far the strongest criminal punishment a cybercriminal can face is defamation under the Information Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, where the person can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison or a maximum fine of 50 million won.
According to lawyer Lee Seung Ki of the Lee and Law Partners Law Office, the current legal system makes it difficult to criminally punish wreckers because there must be “clear signs of malice”. Especially if the victim is a public figure, it is more difficult to prove that false information has been maliciously spread.
An cyber wrecker active on a YouTube channel named PPKKa is said to be partly responsible for Jo Jang Mi‘s death. However, it is less likely that this person will be charged with a criminal offense. The PPKKA account once posted a video accusing Jo Jang Mi, but lawyer Lee Seung Ki pointed out that the late BJ’s case was too public.
“Not only PPKKa but many other YouTubers also upload videos related to the victim. Furthermore, since people post obscene comments in many online communities anonymously, it is difficult to put the blame on just one YouTuber,” the lawyer said.
Professor Shim Young Seob of the department of media video promotion at Kyung Hee Cyber University, who is also a former member of the Korea Media Standards Committee, pointed out that the current legislative system must be changed to claim social responsibility over the service providers. This is a necessary action to prevent such heartbreaking incidents from happening.
“Local administrative organizations usually act only after damage has occurred. The important matter here is to be able to act quickly before something goes wrong. To be able to do that, there needs to be a set of laws and a good cause to impose enforcement on providers,” said Professor Shim Young Seob.
The professor emphasized the role of service providers in the control of information. “Even if a service provider’s headquarters is overseas, it should take liability within the local system where it makes profits. But we don’t have an existing law for that,” he said.
“There should be a set of laws so that providers can take social responsibility for their content, such as what kind of incentives they can get for complying with the law and what penalties they face if they don’t. Without instituting that, there is no proper cause to put the blame on the platform after the problem has arisen,” the professor assessed.