South Korea draws up cyberbulling laws after second K-pop suicide

Nicola Smith
A popular K-pop star who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead at her home on October 14 - AFP

South Korean legislators are pushing for a new bill to make cyberbullying education compulsory in schools and private businesses after the nation was left reeling by the tragic deaths of two young K-pop stars who faced a flood of vicious online abuse.

The law, which is being spearheaded by Kim Su-min from the centrist Bareunmirae party, would be named after Choi Jin-ri, known more widely as ‘Sulli’, 25, who took her own life in October after she spoke of her struggles with constant attacks from misogynistic internet trolls.

It would introduce penalties for non-compliance and incentives for those who effectively educate their students and staff about the dangers of bullying others online.

Sulli, who was K-pop royalty after rising through the ranks from child actress to the girl group f(x), made headlines, often malicious, for her outspoken views on issues like ageism and women’s rights, where she broke with the typical gender mould of soft, feminine perfection promoted by the K-pop industry.

The South Korean singer and actress Goo Hara was found dead in her home this week Credit: ilgan Sports 

She was mercilessly criticised joining a feminist campaign that advocated not wearing bras,

Last week her friend, Goo Hara, 28, also died by suspected suicide after suffering online harassment which took a heavy toll on her mental health.

Goo’s name was dragged through the mud particularly after she accused an ex-boyfriend of blackmailing her over a sex-tape. She revealed on her Instagram account in June that she had been suffering from depression, and at times pleaded with her critics to relent.

“Can you please ask yourself what kind of person you are before you post a vicious comment online?” she wrote recently, according to the New York Times.

The high-profile cases have drawn a spotlight to the wider problem of cyberbullying in South Korea, which has been named a “silent killer” by the media in a country that has the tenth highest suicide rate in the world.  

A South Korean man pays tribute at a memorial altar as his makes a call of condolence in honor of the K-pop star Goo Hara at the Seoul St. Mary's Hospital  Credit: Getty

A study last year by the education ministry found that 10.8% of surveyed students had suffered online abuse.  

Ms Kim told the Telegraph that Sulli’s Law had been drafted after consulting with school teachers on what they believed could effectively counter the problem. “Most of them answered precautionary education,” she said.

The bill would be the first of its kind, she added. “The problem has been around for a very long time, but there haven’t been any laws that have taken preemptive action,” she said.

Min Byeong-cheol, a cyberbullying expert who is helping to draft the legislation, said companies and schools should face fines if they did not take part in the programme.

“Writing bad comments can not only destroy someone’s soul but it can take someone’s life,” he said.