High-profile suicides spark cyber-bullying petition in Korea

People look at phones in Seoul

Thousands in South Korea have signed a petition calling for more action on cyber-bullying in the wake of two celebrity deaths.

Both volleyball player Kim In-hyeok and YouTuber Cho Jang-mi, who died within a day of each other, are thought to have taken their own lives. Both had been targeted with hate comments online.

Cyber-bullying of well-known figures is a big issue in South Korea and several celebrities have killed themselves.

The petition was created after the death of influencer Cho Jang-mi, aged 27, who was found dead at home on 5 February. A person claiming to be a family member said she had taken her life due to hateful comments online, Yonhap reports.

The influencer and gamer, who was known online as BJ Jammi, had been accused in 2019 of making a gesture in one of her videos that implied she hated men. Her mother, who monitored her comments, had taken her own life in 2020, Ms Cho had said, at which point she appealed for the bullying, accusing her of being a “man-hater”, to stop.

The petition, signed by almost 150,000 people, has called for punishment for those who spread rumours about her.

Ms Cho’s death came a day after Kim In-hyeok, a 28-year-old volleyball player for the Daejeon Samsung Fire Bluefangs, was found dead.

He had also called for people to stop sending hate comments and spreading rumours about his sexuality and appearance online.

“People who have no idea who I really am send countless direct messages and post spiteful comments whenever I play a game. It’s really hard to bear all that. Please stop,” he wrote on Instagram.

Following his death, actor Hong Seok-cheon criticised the abuse that Mr Kim had received – a rare move by a celebrity.

“I will remember how many people have died from the blade that started at your fingertips,” he wrote on Instagram. “I will say it again, you malicious commenters are murderers.”

Others on social media have described online abuse in the country as “toxic”, accusing the bullies of “hiding behind the keyboard”.

It’s not the first time that a celebrity suicide in South Korea has put online bullying in the spotlight.

In 2019, actress and singer Sulli was found dead after receiving online abuse for years. It prompted several celebrities to call for better support for those in the K-pop industry and the pressures they are under.

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