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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 16:10 GMT
Cyber bullying rises in S Korea
BBC Click's Dan Simmons
By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click Online

Comedian Yungchul Kim
TV comedian Yungchul Kim was threatened online
South Korea is one of the most connected places on earth, but as Dan Simmons reports, spending so much time online has created a whole new set of social problems.

Last year Korean TV Comedian Yungchul Kim starred on a game show that can still be seen on the internet today.

In the TV programme, XMen, celebrities have to provoke their opponent into reacting to put-downs.

Yungchul joked that the pop star he was up against had a fake smile. While the singer held his nerve, his fans used chat rooms and forums to turn on the comedian.

"It was just fun," said Yungchul Kim, "but a fan doesn't think about that."

"They are very serious. They said 'I'm going to kill you', that they'd pray for me. It was a kind of curse. It was the worst day I've ever had."

The spiteful comments and threats continued for 12 months. This is a mild case of a growing phenomenon Koreans call cyber violence.

Spreading rumours

In a society where social networking is as popular as meeting up for a drink, information spreads quickly.

We need a system which blocks individuals from using the net in cases of defamation
Sung-Ho Kim, Korean Internet Service Providers
Online mobs first demonise those they disagree with, then the victim's home address, credit card details, and even their boss's phone numbers get passed around.

All of Korea's police stations now have a cyber terror unit to help deal with the problem.

The number of cases referred to Korea's Internet Commission tripled last year.

"Often using other people's login to a website, these people spread bad rumours aimed at affecting the victim's social status," said Chun Seong Lee, Liaison Officer at the Cyber Terror Response Centre.

"It's happening a lot. In these situations people could lose their job, or it could affect their social life, even causing mental illness. That's all happening because of the development of the internet, of course."

Restricting freedom

The 1988 Seoul Olympics changed everything in South Korea. It was a watershed before which any criticism of the leadership was quashed.

Lineage concept art, NCSoft
Net games such as Lineage are very popular in South Korea
Then came a change at the top, and an economic boom put Korea in a gold medal position to lead the world into the broadband age.

Suddenly, Koreans had free speech and somewhere to express it. Often anonymously.

But now, while the vast majority do not stir up trouble online, cyber violence is leading many to support greater restrictions on these freedoms.

Next year a new law will come into force which will force Koreans to reveal their name and ID number before they share their opinions online.

But some say that does not go far enough.

Forcing portals to collect national ID numbers is just one tactic.

Sung-Ho Kim represents Korean Internet Service Providers. He says they cannot remove offensive material quickly enough. He wants the government to cut off some people from the internet altogether.

"Because on the internet information spreads quickly we need a system which blocks individuals from using the net in cases of defamation - something that will stop the spread of information before it happens, to save the victim."

Some psychologists say Koreans simply love to provoke a reaction. Perhaps that is why XMen is so popular.

But how the authorities try to put-down this growing trend will be closely watched by other countries, worried this sudden boom in bullying could spread elsewhere.

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