Lawmakers in Massachusetts are trying to make attacks through online networking sites illegal. This comes after a local high school student killed herself; school officials say she became the victim of cyberbullying. Politicians in South Korea have also tried to ban malicious online assaults. In recent years there’s been a string of high profile celebrity suicides there, which are believed to be the result of angry fans trashing those stars on message boards. Jason Strother has the story. (Photo: Jason Strother)
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MARCO WERMAN: Instant messaging, photo sharing and the like are already widespread in South Korea. Just about everyone there under-30 uses the internet. But there’s a dark side of online networking. We’ve seen cyber-bullying here in the States and it’s happening in South Korea too. Now some students in the country are trying to counter negative posts in online forums. Jason Struther reports that these young South Koreans are accentuating the positive.
JASON STRUTHER: At a café in Seoul Lee Jae Ho uses and iPhone to show off some pictures he uploaded to his Cyworld homepage.
LEE JAE HO: Myself, my girlfriend’s picture, my friend’s pictures.
STRUTHER: Cyworld is a lot like Facebook. Friends can view and comment on each other’s photos. But 16-year-old Lee says about two years ago he started getting messages from people he didn’t know and, they were pretty nasty.
INTERPRETER: Some people in Korea just take pleasure out of abusing others anonymously. And then other people see the negative comments and join in.
STRUTHER: Korean authorities say they receive reports of thousands of online attacks each year. But there’s not much they can do about it. Some observers say they suspect that many of the vicious comments come from middle and high school students. Min Byoung Chul is an English professor at Seoul’s Kunkuk University. He points out that Korean students feel pressured.
MIN BYOUNG CHUL: Young kids, they are stressed out because of the school work, they have to prepare for their college entrance examination, they just write whatever they feel. That’s one of the ways to sort of speak, exit their frustration and stress.
STRUTHER: But when Min learned about how online bullying has prompted some to take their own lives, he decided to do something about it. A few years ago he launched a program that encourages young Koreans to write only positive things online. He calls it the Sunfull Movement. It’s a play on words in Korean, meaning good reply. And he’s been taking the program to schools across the country. He Hogok Middle School in Ilsan, just outside of Seoul, has a Sunfull Club with around 40 members and their assignment is to spread positive comments on websites and other message boards. Fifteen-year-old Kim Hee Joo wears a sash across her navy school uniform that reads “Sunfull is Happiness”.
INTERPRETER: On my school’s homepage I write thank you messages to my friends, family and teachers. And also if I see people making bad comments about celebrities I leave nice messages because when people see positive comments, they’re more likely to stop saying bad things and change their attitude.
STRUTHER: Hogok’s Sunfull instructor, Kim Eun Young says ever since her school adopted the program she sees a real difference in her students.
INTERPRETER: Koreans don’t really say “thank you” or “I love you” to friends or parents she says, but this lets them be anonymous and not face-to-face, so they feel more comfortable saying those kinds of things.
STRUTHER: Kim says she thinks bullying, both on and offline at her school, has gone down since the Sunfull program began there. Founder Min Byoung Chul thinks his program could work in other schools around the world. He hopes others will adopt similar measures to try to prevent anymore bullying victims from killing themselves. As for cyber-bullying victim Lee Jae Ho, he never considered taking his own life, but he’s read about many who have. He says bullies may not realize the damage they do.
INTERPRETER: Koreans tend to get angry really fast and then cool down fast too. The people who make the abusive comments just do it for three or four days, and then forget about it. But even though they move on, their victims hurt for much longer.
STRUTHER: Lee says he’s doing what he can to break the cycle. Before his school joined the Sunfull program he says he would have sought revenge on anyone who posted bad things on his blog. Now he just lets it go. For The World, I’m Jason Struther in Seoul.
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