“Did you hear Sulli killed herself a few days ago?” On Oct. 17, 2019, the hairdresser broke the news to me at a hair salon where I made a first visit to remove the color in my hair. “Sulli became a bit weird lately. I reckon it’s because she went out with the wrong guy.” Later, there was plenty of chatter about the late Sulli, but I just smiled silently. It was an exceptionally bad day. I haven’t visited that hair salon since then. It was unfortunate to meet such a person, but it was true that the majority of people talk gossip about her life, far from cherishing her memory. Two months after her death, news of Goo Hara’s demise also made headlines. The names of the two women and the “Werther effect” grew in popularity in real-time search words. The public’s attention was soon drawn to how terrible the Werther effect is. It was by no means an important keyword for this occurrence. The vicious comments that rushed like bees at any time and the public’s short memory that makes people forget anything, no matter how amazing it is, were scary. A new year has begun, but articles related to them still remain. There was no memorial for them in the entertainment industry. Only the Irish rock band U2 paid tribute to the late Sulli during a concert, singing the song “Ultraviolet” in Korea in December.
Last year, the death of the two female artists raised concerns in a society where malicious comments and secondary offenses prevail, but the public do not seem to have properly recognized the warning signs. Their death is called “social homicide.” It is up to the living to stop the tragedy. Something similar has happened in the past. The death of actor Choi Jinsil in October 2008 also triggered malicious comments in our society. Public opinion argued for the introduction of the real-name system on the Internet, but it was ruled unconstitutional for violating “freedom of expression” and “freedom of speech.” Instead, “Cyber Contempt” was newly legislated. Eleven years later, there have been many discussions on vile comments again. Since the series of suicides in the entertainment industry was a hot potato, the media reported a number of measures by the government, businesses, and entertainment agencies. The real-name system on the Internet has been mentioned again, and an irresponsible reporter who distorts facts or writes sensational articles must be punished for his or her actions. Some criticized the judiciary for taking the lead in protecting the perpetrators, not the victims. In the case of portal sites, a measure was taken to close the comments’ section on entertainment articles, or use AI to filter out vicious replies.
Will such laws and institutions reduce expressions of contempt? No. Like abolishing comments or filtering out bad words, expressions of disgust can’t be sanctioned one by one because they involve social context. Only a fraction of the myriad spaces where hate speech is repeated are regulated. For example, the malicious comment, “Are you pregnant?,” must be expressed in the context of a young, unmarried female idol member. Thus, the “AntiDiscrimination Act,” which is based on the detailed context of expressions of hate, was mentioned as an alternative. However, since the process of determining the context of hate speech is too subjective, its effectiveness is also absent. Thus, laws and institutions can’t provide the ultimate solution. First, to eliminate vile comments, we must not rush in assessing a person. Let’s look back at what the society we belong to looks like: “#No-bra_Controversy #SNS_Controversy and #PornVideo_Controversy” have modified the lives and deaths of the two women. Bad tweets follow celebrities like tags, but female celebrities are accompanied by sexual harassment and sex scandal by applying much stricter standards on them. Furthermore, there is no filtering on anonymous SNS.
This cyber bullying clearly shows an intention to evaluate criticize, and crush individuals’ unique colors without recognizing them as their individual characteristics. Some might argue that even such comments are still an act of personal freedom. Yet, even John Stuart Mill, who says freedom should be absolutely guaranteed, highlights that it is possible “unless it doesn’t hurt a person.” It is not liberty to secure the unlimited right to speak just because someone displeases you and is frowned upon. The tyranny of the majority on the pretense of liberty does not hesitate to criticize, serving as the basis for the comment culture. It is time to start eradicating these practices ourselves. Lastly, I don’t want to mourn their deaths beautifully as “sadly felling the bloom of youths.” Rather, I deny it. I hope that, as the masses who consumed them, we do not focus on recalling how gorgeous they were in their lifetimes, but how ignorant in their pains we were, and make sincere signs and reflections.
Lee Hae-been (News Editor)