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Online Harassment in South Korea

November 17, 2019

There has been another suicide within in the K-pop industry. Sulli, former f(x) member and actress with birth name Choi Jinri, was found dead in her apartment on October 14, 2019, at age 25. Sulli had been a target to online harassment in South Korea for her outspokenness in sexuality and feminism. Netizens, avid internet users, criticized her for almost everything she did, nitpicking at her constantly. Because these comments were made anonymously, people got away with nasty and truly hurtful comments. When abortion became legal in South Korea, Sulli made a post supporting the notion and celebrating the fact that women now had a choice. However, she was met with severe backlash, some saying that she is brainless and some questioning her parents and how they raised her. To illustrate the pettiness of netizens, they made a big deal about a short clip of her playing with her cat and she received lots of backlash from it. 

Sulli was always moving against the current of a Korean society in which there is a stigma for seeking help regarding mental health. SHINee’s lead singer Jonghyun had taken his life on December 18, 2017, after a long battle with depression and pressures of fame. His death shocked everyone because he was the first instance of suicide within the K-pop industry. His death showcased the deep struggles celebrities have with mental health, most times hiding their pain to the public. However, Sulli stood up for herself and she always called out malicious comments, something that many K-pop idols wouldn’t do, and even asked her company, SM Entertainment to take legal action against cyberbullying. Sadly, Sulli was denied from much help and as a last resort, took her own life. 

This tragedy provoked various conversations on the topic of mental health and the standards that celebrities are held to. Kim Dong-wan, a member of Shinhwa, took to his Instagram to point out the hypocrisy of the standards that celebrities are held to.

 

“There are so many adults who expect young celebrities to show bright and healthy smiles when they can’t eat or sleep properly. They expect celebrities to be sexy but not have sex and to be tough but not fight with anyone” - Kim Dong-wan (translated from Korean)

 

After this recent tragedy, South Korean lawmakers, as well as fans, have been petitioning for “Sulli’s law,” a petition calling for heavier punishments for online trolls and media outlets that spread falsehood. People are also supporting the adoption of a real-name online comment system, instead of staying anonymous. Big companies such as DAUM, Korea’s second largest portal site, will be temporarily abolishing the comments sections under articles until the company can have better regulations against malicious comments.  

Although work is finally being done to prevent tragedies such as Sulli’s passing, it was seen that people have clearly not learned their lesson. When news of Sulli’s passing spread, many celebrities took to social media to express their sorrow. However, many of the people closest to her, such as her best friends and f(x) members, did not post anything. While people were discussing the hate on the internet that largely accounted for Sulli’s death, others were sending hate and even death threats to people who were close to Sulli for not posting about the tragedy on their social medias. South Korean singer and one of Sulli’s close friends, IU, was criticized greatly for not being more public about her grief. Netizens even accused her of not caring about Sulli, when in reality she was present at Sulli’s memorial for the entire multi-day ceremony along with Krystal, one of the members of f(x), who was criticized for the same reasons as IU. Thankfully, IU’s label Kakao M stated that they would take legal action against all the harassment that IU received for this issue. Victoria Song, Chinese singer-actress and leader of f(x), was criticized for not expressing her grief and for not flying to Korea immediately after the news when she was in fact in the process of getting her Visa and was in the middle of a shoot. It was said that she had burst into tears on set and she came to Korea as quickly as possible, contrary to the rumors being spread that she did not care much about Sulli. Hearing enough from online haters, Victoria clapped back with a long statement defending herself as well as the other f(x) members.

 

“Please don’t tell others what they need to do with their lives. Even well-intentioned advice has its boundaries. Don’t overstep. What right do you have to tell a stranger to do this, or don’t do that, when your own life is a wreck? Everyone’s life is different and unique. Who has the right to tell someone else how to live?” -Victoria Song (translated from Chinese)

 

Sulli’s death has brought a lot of unspoken issues in South Korea, especially in the entertainment industry. It is unknown whether steps like Sulli’s law and stricter online regulations will prevent further tragedies but people need to be mindful of anything said on the internet for it truly affects others’ day to day lives, even if they are celebrities. Hopefully, through Sulli and even Jonghyun’s passing, online harassment and mental health will be taken more seriously in South Korea than before.

 

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