Choi Jin-sil, South Korean actress, cyberbullying
AP Photo/Yonhap
South Korean actress Choi Jin-sil, who killed herself Oct. 2 after being cyberbullied.

Actress’s Death Puts South Korean Spotlight on Cyberbullying

October 06, 2008 05:15 AM
by Christopher Coats
After a high-profile suicide, South Korea has increased its already strict oversight of online behavior.

South Korean Police Pursue Cyberbullies After Actress Suicide

The recent death of Choi Jin-sil, a 40-year-old actress who killed herself after online gossip falsely linked her to another actor’s early September suicide, has spurred the South Korea National Police to launch a crackdown on Internet activity.

South Korea had previously implemented a program that required Web portals to monitor and erase malicious comments when a complaint is registered; this new month-long effort has assigned 900 police officers to actively pursue harassers online.

The nation also introduced a series of laws last year to deal with cyberbullying, requiring users to register their real names when commenting online.

Choi’s death came a year after that of singer Yoo Na, who suicided after cyberbullying about her plastic surgery.

South Korea’s efforts could have far-reaching effects in a country where more than 70 percent of households are connected to the Internet, and online communities dominate social activity.

A Widespread but Unfocused Approach to Online Harassment

Campaigns against cyberbullying and the spread of malicious online rumors have been launched worldwide, with varying degrees of success.

A case of teen suicide after a flurry of cyberbullying in Missouri resulted in a woman being charged with a violation of the rules set by an online community, as state and federal laws remained unclear about what constituted online harassment.

However, the event did spur the Missouri State Legislature to vote in favor of defining and barring Internet harassment as a part of a bill that covered all digital communication, including text messaging and other electronic devices. The resulting legislation made credible threats from adults to a victim or his or her family a felony and punishable by up to four years in prison.

A lack of firm boundaries and an inability to determine who has jurisdiction over online comments has also caused delays in legislation, as schools have struggled with attacks coming from private computers.

Critics of efforts to punish such behavior focus on the question of free speech and definition of libel online.

Meanwhile, in China, there is popular approval for mass cyberbullying of users considered to have violated societal or political norms.

Related Topic: Corporate responsibility

Both YouTube and Bebo, two sites often used in cases of online harassment, have launched efforts of their own to combat cyberbullying, with increased safety measures and ways for users to voice their concerns.

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