The South Korean government is under increasing pressure to crack down on cyberbullying after the apparent suicide of an athlete and YouTube influencer who has been constantly abused on the Internet.
Professional volleyball player Kim In-hyeok was found dead at his home in Suwon last week, the day before the death of Cho Jang-mi, a popular live streamer better known as BJ Jammi.
Kim received an avalanche of hateful comments regarding his appearance and speculation about his sexual identity.
According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, the 27-year-old who played for Daejeon Samsung Fire Bluefangs reportedly left a note containing “pessimistic” reflections on his life.
Cho, a YouTube influencer who also had a lot of fans on Twitch’s game streaming platform, suffered from depression after more than two years of sexual abusive comments and claims she hates men, according to a social media post by a family member.
Her death sparked calls for harsh punishments against fellow YouTubers and commentators who posted rumors and hateful comments directed at Cho, who was 27 years old.
The petition on the website of the presidential Blue House had collected over 150,000 signatures by Tuesday.
While the global reach of South Korean pop culture is often a cause for celebration, at home a combination of celebrity obsession and high digital connectivity has been blamed for many celebrity suicides in recent years.
The 2019 suicide of singer and actor Sulla sparked anger over the failure of management agencies to protect their stars from “toxic fandom” and demanded government action against harassment on popular websites where users could comment anonymously.
Her death prompted Naver and Daum to close their sports and entertainment commentary section, but online abuse remains a problem on social networking sites such as YouTube and Instagram.
“More and more people suffer from depression and mental health problems due to online hate speech. It’s a problem that can destroy people’s lives, ”Kim Tae-yeon, a lawyer specializing in defamation and cyberbullying, told Yonhap.
Cybercriminals who once exploited victims on South Korean websites simply turned to global social media platforms knowing they would be more difficult to identify. As a result, it is difficult for the police to initiate prosecutions, despite the increase in reported cases.
“Even if criminals are caught, they usually end up with light penalties such as fines,” Kim said.
Kim In-hyeok has publicly complained about the online abuse he received, and referred to speculation about his sexuality and use of cosmetics.
“I never wore makeup, I don’t like guys, I had a girlfriend and I never starred in an adult movie,” he wrote on his Instagram account last August. “People who have no idea who I really am send countless direct messages and leave malicious comments every time I play. It’s really hard to take. Please stop.”
In 2019, Cho was accused of making a gesture in one of her films that she hated men. According to reports, her mother, who monitored online comments to her daughter, committed suicide shortly thereafter.