People actively engage in SNS for various purposes. However, since it is a space where many anonymous people gather without knowing each other, unsavory situations often occur. The movie <Social Phobia> investigates a group of young people to determine whether the death of a girl who died after being targeted in an SNS witch hunt is suicide or murder. The movie, which warns about the harmful effects of SNS, was released 7 years ago. However, it has been attracting attention recently as a movie that criticizes the current social issue and shows nothing has changed since 7 years ago.
Online harassment develops
Online harassment is a new kind of harassment that has emerged since the development of the Internet. Online harassment refers to all acts of violence that occur online, including "cyber insults," "cyber defamation," "cyber sexual harassment," "cyber stalking," and "cyberbullying." According to the "2020 Cyber Violence Survey" released by the Korea Communications Commission, 62.7% of adults have experienced cyber violence. This is an increase of 14.2% compared to the previous year. As for the types of violence, stalking was the most common at 39.8%, followed by verbal violence 36.0%, sexual violence 32.6%, defamation 28.3%, and personal information leakage 25.1%. This increasing online harassment has also increased online police investigations. According to data submitted by the National Police Agency, there were 28,988 cases of cyber defamation in 2021, up 49.5% from 2020. An official from the Cybercrime Investigation Division of the National Police Agency explained, "Since COVID-19, the number of related cases has increased significantly as SNS use, YouTube viewing time, and expressions of opinions through comments have increased."1) With the development of SNS and the prolonged COVID-19, online harassment has soared through using anonymous names.
The reason why online harassment is recently attracting attention, especially for being dangerous compared to other crimes is because of its nature. Online harassment is not perceived as a crime like other crimes but PTSD from online harassment is much more serious than other crimes. Unlike physical crimes, the understanding of this as a crime is low in that it is highly volatile "talk." The "talk" can cause suffering 24/7 through SNS. At first, there are only one or two perpetrators, but "talk" can spread quickly to an unlimited number. Even more, online harassment also brings physical attacks on the socially disadvantaged. In March 2021, there were a series of shootings in which a total of eight people, including six Asian people and four Korean people, were killed in three massage parlors and spas in Atlanta, Georgia. Researchers at the University of California (UCSF) in San Francisco noted that anti-Asian hashtags appeared in a tweet in which American president Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as a "Chinese virus." Researchers John Brownstein pointed out in US Today that "the use of racial words for COVID-19 has played an important role in increasing serious online harassment of Asian communities over the past year."2) Unlike other crimes, online harassment is not just limited to online but can lead to secondary and tertiary damage in offline, real life.
Why is it increasing?
Online harassment is carried out by an individual or group targeting another individual or group. It appears in various forms and methods, from simply causing irritation to serious attacks. In most cases of online harassment, the perpetrators who attack usually do not know the victims in their daily lives nor have they suffered damage from the victims. Nevertheless, the fundamental reasons for the increase in online harassment are the lack of criminal consciousness and empathy for behavior. Erin Buckles, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, predicted that sadism is an important feature of online harassment.3) Sadism means enjoying the wounds and pains of others. To see if sadism and online harassment are related, researchers showed pictures of people who are emotionally and physically distressed to participants and asked about their feelings of unpleasantness and joy. As a result, people who have sadistic personality characteristics felt pleasure and evaluated the pain of the person in the picture lower than those who did not. In other words, studies have shown that sadistic people feel less guilty than those who do not. However, having sadistic tendencies is not the main cause of all online bullying. According to Article 70 of the Act on Promotion of Information and Communication Network Utilization and Information Protection, anyone who defames others with public statements using communication networks for the purpose of slander will be sentenced to up to three years or fined up to 30 million won. In addition, a person who defames another person by spreading false information is punished by imprisonment for up to seven years, suspension of qualification for up to ten years, or a fine of up to 50 million won. Despite the existence of imprisonment, the actual sentencing rate is low. Jeong Wan, a professor at Kyung Hee University, said, "Korea imposes physical detention and fines related to cyber violence, but it is usually limited to fines."4) Indeed, online harassment is fundamentally lacking in empathy and criminal consciousness, but currently the insufficient legal regulations are further deteriorating.
Also, online harassment is an expression of an individual's wrong desire, but the reason for its increase is that it generates profits. Cyber wrecker refers to those who make money from a high number of views by making provocative videos of recent issues. One example is the YouTuber "PPKKa" who has more than 1.2 million subscribers and makes money by posting content related to misogyny such as feminism, etc. Despite the overflow of hate and discriminatory posts aimed at specific people, it is difficult to respond and punish this immediately. Typically, YouTube is a platform that shows online harassment by cyber wreckers. But it is difficult to get YouTube’s member information or record logs because its headquarters is in a foreign country. Likewise, it is not easy to conduct a forced investigation on other SNS platforms to secure records of suspected crimes if the headquarters are located abroad. Also, global platforms are often uncooperative with investigations because of money. Therefore, laws should be enacted to increase the responsibility of platform operators. Currently, Naver and Kakao have their own restrictions on hate speech, and YouTube also has its guidelines to regulate false information and violent content. However, the self-regulation of operators is neither mandatory nor effective. Also, it is difficult to immediately act, such as deletion after reporting, and several weeks often pass before there is any punishment. Even if the Korea Communications Standards Commission directly requests the deletion of posts that violate its regulations, overseas platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram do not have any obligation to implement them. Park Jongmin, a professor at Kyung Hee University, said, "There is an opposition to shrinking freedom of expression when talking about regulations on platforms, but a number of attacks cause damage to individuals that is difficult to recover from."5) Hate content becomes money for cyber wreckers and platforms with many views. Although there are restrictions on the platform itself to prevent this, it cannot be an effective solution due to not being mandatory.
A plan not to be repeated.
As online harassment increases, its danger has also emerged. Accordingly, the National Assembly has proposed several bills to prevent online harassment in the meantime. The 20th National Assembly proposed a law to prevent malicious comments related to cyberbullying. Park Daechul of the 21st National Assembly also proposed a partial revision to the Information and Communication Network Act to strengthen punishment for malicious comments. Nevertheless, the anti-malicious comments law was abolished when its term expired without proper discussion. Follow-up discussions were had on the introduction of a semi-real name system and amendments to the Information and Communication Network Act. Meanwhile, BJ Jammi (real name Cho Jangmi, 27) and Kim Inhyuk (Samsung Fire Bluefangs, 27), who suffered from online harassment, are known to have committed suicide, raising calls for enacting the "Online Violence Prevention Act." On February 17, 2022, the Democratic Press Citizens' Union and the Justice Party held a debate titled "Left Abhorrence: Should We Leave Online Violence as It Is?" The Justice Party lawmaker Jang Hyeyoung, who hosted the forum, said, "As online violence is permeating into everyday life, we will definitely enact the Online Violence Prevention Act in the 21st National Assembly for the safety and dignity of citizens." However, some are concerned about the online violence prevention law. In the case of the existing online real-name system, an "unconstitutional" decision was made to violate the 2012 Constitution. This is because it was likely to infringe on freedom of expression and its benefits were not significant. In other words, the online real-name system is not very effective, so it is questionable how effective the online violence prevention law can be. In response, some argue that Germany's Network Execution Act needs to be reviewed. The Network Execution Act mandates platform operators to block hateful content for a specific target within 24 hours on SNS with more than 2 million users. Kim Eongyeong, director of the Moongle Media Research Institute, said "Korea should also actively introduce such strong regulations," adding, "Citizens and users should also recognize that YouTube content is a serious problem, and not just enjoy it."6) Looking at people who have committed suicide due to online harassment, the position that online harassment cannot be left to the individual's conscience and that strong regulations of the law are needed should be supported.
Although there are limitations in the current legal system, platforms operate in their own ways to solve online harassment. Twitch is one of the platforms where the relationship between broadcasters and viewers is very close. In September 2021, a problem arose when aggressive viewers entered a specific broadcast called "Hate Raid" at once. Then, some broadcasters on the platform campaigned for "#TwitchDoBetter." In response, Twitch introduced its own new system that grants permission to chat only to accounts that have completed email and phone authentication. Naver and Kakao also announced that they would temporarily suspend the sports news comment service after a volleyball player Ko Yumin, who was suffering from online harassment, was found dead. They have already suspended the entertainment news comment service to prevent a recurrence after celebrities Sulli and Goo Hara, who were suffering from online harassment, took their own lives. In addition, in the case of Live Talk, it announced that it will apply "AI Cleanbot 2.0" technology that can filter out malicious content such as abusive language. The channel operator has also been granted the authority to set the comment area on or off. Yoo Seunghyun, a special professor at Hanyang University, said, "At a time when violence on online platforms is diversifying due to defamation and bullying, platform operators should take social responsibility and self-regulate such as actively deleting harmful posts and preparing policies to stop economic profits."7) Online harassment cannot be resolved by legal regulations alone. Therefore, in the case of platforms that carry the most online harassment, there is an increasing number of movements for social responsibility rather than economic benefits.
It's only the beginning
Now people live with a close relationship to SNS. As people spend more time on SNS, online harassment has recently emerged as a new social problem. There have been many suggestions to prevent this, but there is no clear solution for online harassment. Therefore, rather than turning a blind eye to it, it is time to act. For now, platforms, people, and policies have a responsibility to monitor online bullying for the safety of society.
1) Lee Jongmin and Jang Hanseo, "As a Joke, "Hate" and "Die" Horror Message... I'm Going to End the Cliff of Death. [Online Violence Is Serious]", The Segye Times, Feb 22, 2022
2) Shin Jeongwon, "17% Of Asian in the U.S. "Last Year’s Online Bullying Experience"", NEWSIS, Mar 25, 2021
3) Park Jinyoung, "People Who Ruin Other People’s Lives Online", Donga Science, Feb 20, 2022
4) Jang Sehui and Gong Byeongseon, ""Foreigners Are Fined and Sentenced to Prison..." 'Cyberbullying' Outside the System", The Asia Business Daily, Feb 11, 2022
5) See Footnote 1
6) Park Sanghwi, "We Need to Strengthen the Punishment for Cyber Rekka's 'Hate Content.' Curious Consumption Is Also an Accomplice", NEWS1, Feb 8, 2022
7) Go Byeongchan, "If You Don't Want to Repeat the Death of Youtubers and Volleyball Players...the First Step of "Online Violence Prevention", The Hankyoreh, Feb 17, 2022