Friday, October 22, 2010

If they get uppity, sic the internet on them

As mentioned here, the Korea Times published an article yesterday titled 'Cyber terror' goes wild, which looked at the fallout from this case:
Some netizens are waging a “cyber terror” campaign against a 35-year-old female middle-school teacher found to have had an inappropriate relationship with a pupil by spreading photos of her and other private information in cyberspace.[...]

They copied her photos, the name of her workplace, family background and other information, and uploaded them onto Internet community sites, such as DC Inside ( and Netizen Crime Scene Investigators (

Netizens also posted the photos and other personal data of the indecent teacher on their websites and blogs, enabling a larger number of Internet users to view her private information.
What's hypocritical is that the Times then goes on to repeat much of the information spread about her (and give exact web addresses of sites with information about her). It then gives several recent examples of such "Cyber Terror":
It is not the first time a group of Internet users have invaded the privacy of certain individuals. A while ago, a female university student in Seoul called short men “losers” in a popular TV program. Many netizens were furious about her comment and began searching for her name, the name of her school and other private information. They spread what they found all over cyberspace and the female student became public enemy No. 1.

In another incident, when another female college student was filmed cursing a middle-aged cleaning woman on campus, many Internet users disclosed her personal data in cyberspace, including the occupations of her parents.
The article ends with a call for the government to "oblige all Internet users to write comments and engage in other online activities under their real names." This is hardly surprising, as this was the response to the incident which first drew attention to "cyber terror", the "dog poop girl" incident of June 2005. That incident was used to justify the 'real name system' which had been suggested two years earlier, as I mentioned here. Here are posts I wrote back in 2005 about this:

Internet Witchhunts and Conflict Resolution
Riding the wave of 'cyber terror' articles
'Real Names' in Korean Cyberspace
Portals and the Cyber Terror blame game

What was interesting was that when incidents of "cyber terror" were described in the media as the concept was being constructed, one incident did not get much mention, even though it had taken place just a few months earlier, and had been covered as an "invasion of privacy": The English Spectrum incident, where netizens tracked down the women who had appeared in photos with foreign English teachers at a sexy costume party and hounded them.

This had happened many times before, but for some reason the dog poop girl was the straw that broke the camel's back. In November 2000, a video clip of hit singer Baek Ji Young was spread on the internet and ruined her career. As Time reported, 'A typical Net posting reads: "Is Baek Ji Young a prostitute who gave up being a decent human being?"'

Baek wasn't the only singer to have her career ruined in such a way; in November 2007 Ivy was blackmailed by an ex-boyfriend who threatened to expose a sex tape (which never turned up). As reported at the time,
The Ivy scandal began to take off about three weeks ago. Since then, many netizens, boastful of their information-gathering prowess, have posted messages online gossiping about another man Ivy was supposedly involved with, passing judgment on her purported affairs, and even suggesting she should be beaten for being a "bad girl." Others simply want to know where they can buy the sex tape. Some Internet media outlets, eager for wider audiences, have posted such stories as if they are truthful.
In short time Ivy went from a top singer to no singing career (but has acted on TV since), and also suffered the indignity of being sued:
A cosmetics company on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against its spokesmodel, the pop singer Ivy. The company claims Ivy's lies and scandal-plagued private life have tarnished the company's brand image, as cosmetics are greatly dependent on the image of their spokesmodels. [...] The company is demanding that the singer's agency pay W500 million in compensation, double what it paid to her.
Before the lawsuit against Ivy, a similar one had occurred in 2004 against Choi Jin-sil, who was a spokesperson for Shinhan until she revealed her bruised face after being beaten by her husband, and the company successfully sued her for damaging their reputation. The result of an appeal was in Shinhan's favor, but came not too long after Choi had killed herself, perhaps in part due to malicious rumors spread by netizens. And while one can understand the company in this case wanting to get their money back from a model that went AWOL, did they really need to reveal things about her personal life and refer to her "promiscuity"?

Netizens also attacked model Kim Daul for posing partly nude, who criticized the attacks on her blog (but who also later committed suicide).

In more recent cases,
Top actress Kim Hee-sun is getting furious reactions from Internet users who criticized her for an “inappropriate” scarf [dotted with skulls] that she wore while paying her respects to the late Andre Kim.

Meanwhile, TV show anchor Song Ji-hyo’s laugh over her own pronunciation mistake, while covering Andre Kim’s death on an SBS entertainment program, also created controversy among netizens whether it should have been avoided.
Most recently we had the case of the "luxury girl", or Korea's "Paris Hilton," who was the subject of a netizen assault:
Her bragging caused a huge stir on the Internet and irked many. And a question was raised among netizens whether the girl, now famously known as the “400-milliion-won luxury girl,” is subject to any gift taxes.

Following the episode, the National Tax Service (NTS)’s website was bombarded with articles by angry citizens, who called for an intense tax audit of her parents.
And then there was this case of two women in 2006 who were interviewed by Sisa Journal, which then inserted the interviews into a negative article about "doenjang nyeo", or bean paste girls, a term that had become popular to describe vain girls obsessed with brand names:
The article identified them by their full real names, and published clear photos of them sipping coffee.

The women had little idea what would happen when the article was released on the magazine’s Internet edition. The two were bombarded with online comments about “how vain” they were and that they were good examples of how some thoughtless girls could “wring money out of their rich parents to waste it abroad.”

Internet users then got hold of more photos of the two and plastered them over the Internet bulletin boards and passed the photos around over online chat programs, denouncing them as typical doenjang-nyeo types that all men should beware of.

Shocked by the responses and frightened by threats they received, the two went to the Press Arbitration Commission to demand an official apology from the magazine, and said they were planning to file suit demanding compensation for “mental damages.”
By now it should be pretty clear what the gender of the victims in these cases was. While there have been cases of men being harassed by netizens, most of those cases involved already-known public figures. When it comes to netizens going after previously anonymous victims and digging up as much as possible about them (including posting their phone numbers and emails and information about their families), the targets have overwhelmingly been female. Part of me cynically wants to ask, "What better use for the internet than to use it to slap around young women, who are getting a bit uppity these days?"

This column by a female writer at the Chosun Ilbo, about Ivy's experience in 2007, is even more bitter:
This phenomenon stands in sharp contrast to cases involving male celebrities. Sex scandals involving men are seldom exposed. And even if photographs are posted to the Internet showing them lying on beds in hotel rooms, they can still enjoy high popularity. [...]

If we'd like to be realistic, we ought to give the following advice to women who might suffer similar scandals in the future: Give up your belief in social justice where the bad guys are punished, hand over your money whenever you're threatened, sit still for your beatings and never forget just what sort of society you're stuck with.
The fact that the targets of such "cyber terror" are overwhelmingly women is the elephant in the room which is not even mentioned in the Korea Times article at the top of this post. This isn't something I've delved into in the Korean language press to research - has anyone noticed this being discussed there at all?


milton said...

I haven't seen any soul-searching personally, but Metropolitican made a similar observation a few weeks back.

I’ve also noticed the trend of collective, public humiliation of Korean Girls Behaving Badly. That’s not to say that the women involved are innocent or that men are let off scot-free. But you definitely don’t see the same reaction when Korean men “act out of line.” There might be public criticism, to be sure, but nothing like the witch-hunts and publicity we’ve seen in the case of women. There have been instances of male teachers who molest, rape, or consort with their students in less-than-wholesome ways, but their private lives aren’t exposed like this teacher was. I’m also reminded of the recent case of the 16 Daejeon high school students who gang-raped a mentally handicapped student on school property (one of the most morally abhorrent stories I’ve read recently) and faced no charges on very specious grounds. I’m seeing disgust on the message boards, but no calls to expose their identities, spread malicious lies about them, or growing drumbeats for an all-out campaign to ruin their reputations (and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind if such a thing did happen in this case). I guess boys will be boys, but girls had better know their place. When a Korean man does something horrendous, like burn down Namdaemun, rape a child, or act like a fool in public, we’re implored to “please understand their situation” and regaled with excuses about how they had “just drank too much” or “had a difficult life.” But the same leeway isn’t shown to Korean woman, especially if their deed involved—gasp—white men.

If I had to do some armchair sociology, I’d say this is probably a manifestation of deep-rooted culture-based sexism butting up against a burgeoning, but incipient woman’s equality movement. Perhaps there’s some collective male resentment at the prospect of woman being liberated from the “traditional” roles as silent homemakers and obedient baby-factories and entering the work-force to compete directly with men, while at the same time overturning traditional family structure.

matt said...

I'd agree with your last paragraph. Also, a Korean friend who teaches at a high school (ironically in the same neighbourhood as the unnamed middle school) mentioned that male teacher - female student pairings weren't so uncommon, but what stood out in this case was the fact that it was the other way around this time.

Your mention of the 16 students who gang-raped a mentally handicapped student reminded me that there was a case back in 2004 where dozens of high school students gang raped up to 5 girls over a period of months (after blackmailing one). That certainly got a netizen response (and on offline demo as well), and pictures of the purported boys were spread around. An exception to the rule, perhaps because the crime - and how the police dealt with it (blaming the victims) - was so outrageous at the time.

milton said...

I don’t know what to say...that may be one of the most disturbing, f’ed up stories I’ve ever read. Not only was the crime itself despicable beyond the pale, but the reaction of the police and the assailant’s family I became physically sick as I read that.

Fred Alfrod, in his book “Think No Evil: Korean Values in the age of Globalization” argued (wrongly in my opinion) that “Koreans do merely disbelieve in evil. They have constructed a world in which it cannot exist.” I’m not a religious man, but if ever there was proof that evil exists in Korean society, then this is it.

Do you know of any cases where a Korean male was treated to a public witchhunt for something frivolous like yelling at an old person? The nearest I can think of would be Tablo and the whole fake degree thing, but he would be classified under “celebrity.”

Another case that passed without netizen reprisal would be that story from earlier this year about the parents who starved their kid to death while they played RPGs at the PC Bang. I guess because a "family" was involved Internet vigilantism would be too much for Korean sensibilities.

Unknown said...

The Times was never a good paper to begin with, but has been sinking into a quagmire of suckitude all the faster these days.

Notice how many shoddy, plagiarized UFO stories they've been running? Today they printed a series of photos "mistiries of UFO" without explanation, and obviously without a proof reader. The photos? Clearly photoshop ripoffs from other sites. Seriously, WTF? And they want to be a reliable news source on any topic?

I seriously think we should start a boycott of this rag! They are an embarrassment to journalism, and the English speaking community here.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

A boycott wouldn't affect their bottom line much. They are not in the business for the native English community. They are in the business for English-speaking Koreans.

Our opinions on their rag don't even appear on their radar. If they did, you would never see Kang Shit-who's byline in that birdcage liner ever again.

hari said...

That's such a powerful little passage, in my opinion anyways:

"Before the lawsuit against Ivy, a similar one had occurred in 2004 against Choi Jin-sil, who was a spokesperson for Shinhan until she revealed her bruised face after being beaten by her husband, and the company successfully sued her for damaging their reputation. The result of an appeal was in Shinhan's favor, but came not too long after Choi had killed herself, perhaps in part due to malicious rumors spread by netizens. "

That's so utterly fucked up. I'm sorry to have nothing to add to the discussion and to be using swear words but it reminds me of the lines from a song: "Clean words don't describe the shit that I've seen." That's foul.