Considering how technology has evolved over the years, and how the internet has become incredibly accessible to many, it is inevitable that there would be negative impacts along the way. Now that anyone can post comments and share their own views and opinions about anything, it has also become a lot easier for anyone to spread hatred and negativity online. It has sparked the birth of cyberbullying, which is intentional and repeated harm inflicted through the use of electronic devices.

In a survey conducted amongst 4000 South Korean students aged between 12 to 17, it revealed that over one in four students have been the subject of cyberbullying. The most commonly-cited case was the deliberate leaking of private information online by their peers, while bullying on social media came in fifth. False rumours also counted as cyberbullying, and this is no stranger to the Korean entertainment industry. 

The most recent case of false accusations would be Yun Seobin’s case— the ex-JYP trainee as well as contestant on Produce X 101 was labeled as an iljin, with conversations about his violent behaviour and pictures of the trainee smoking and drinking whilst underage. This eventually led to the termination of his contract with JYP Entertainment, as well as his participation on Produce X 101. Seobin himself released an apology on social media, indicating his remorse and regret towards his actions in the past, but made no remark on him being a violent person. 

On 15 May, new testimonials from alumni, teachers and friends who knew Seobin were posted online, claiming that he was never a violent person and never bullied anyone. The photo of the words “Stop harassing Jungmin-ie. He says he doesn’t want to live anymore” was in fact a joke made by Shin Jungmin, a close friend of Seobin’s. Further testimonies indicate that Seobin was not violent in school, but instead a popular student who helped others. 

This begs the question: was the termination of his contract and participation justified? Not to say that underage drinking and smoking is something to disregard, but the reason behind his termination pales in comparison to Produce 101 Season 2’s Ha Minho, who was kicked off the show for contacting his fans secretly and asking them for sexual favours. Furthermore, idols that we now know and love, such as Kang Daniel and MONSTA X’s Wonho and Kihyun, have had pictures of them drinking and smoking whilst underage. Yet their reputation as an idol was not diminished. Instead, these idols continued to flourish in a booming industry. With this in mind, there is a chance that Seobin’s career is not over yet.

Citizen journalism has done some good, one example being the SOPA incident that occurred in January. The students of SOPA had initially posted on social media about the private parties they had to perform at, only to be threatened by the principal to take them down. Eventually, the students uploaded a video online, revealing corruption within the school’s management as well as the degradation of students. As more people knew about this incident, petitions were started to have the principal resign. Ultimately, the principal stepped down from his position and owned up to his actions.

Despite the good intentions that come with citizen journalism, it can do harm as well as good. Due to the anonymity of the internet, celebrities have dealt with numerous false accusations paired with fake evidence and conversations from netizens. NU’EST’s Baekho was accused of sexual assault when conversations from KakaoTalk and evidence of the victim supposedly speaking with Baekho was posted anonymously. In a separate incident, a netizen posted online that she was in a homosexual relationship with Lovelyz’s Jisoo, claiming that Jisoo sexually harassed her. In both incidences, the accusations were proved to be untrue, and the companies took legal action against the accusers for defamation.

False accusations have also led to deaths. In 2008, actress Choi Jin-sil committed suicide when rumours circulated on the web that she was a loan shark who drove fellow actor Ahn Jae-hwan to suicide. One incident would be Stray Kids’ Hyunjin was accused of making sexual comments as well as displaying violent behaviour to a female classmate by netizens. Although the issue remained unresolved, it was evident that the idol was deeply affected by the rumours about him when he cried during a fansign. Despite knowing that celebrities have been hurt by the rumours about them, false rumours and accusations continue on.

This is evident in Hyolyn’s bullying case which surfaced recently. A netizen posted conversations with her friend about how her friend used to be bullied by Hyolyn in high school. However, due to the one-sided allegations, the company will be taking legal actions against the netizen for blackening Hyolyn’s reputation. These accusations will continue, with netizens not caring about the consequences of their actions or the emotional damage they cause to the accused.

So what does the future of citizen journalism hold?

Despite uncovering truths, it can also lead to discrediting information from victims even if it may be true. Due to the complexity of human beings, there are many psychological factors that come into play when one does something. This means that sometimes victims can act differently from what we consider to be “normal”. Furthermore, since there is a lack of understanding from an outsider’s perspective, we may consider the victim to be seeking attention and start questioning the logic of their actions.

With all these false accusations becoming more prominent, people will become more aware and conscious of the content they see online. However, because we grow to become more skeptical, we may choose not to believe victims and continue following idols who should not be in the public eye. Overall, citizen journalism leads to a colder and less empathetic online society in the future.

[Synapse, Internet Cultures, Instagram, Koreaboo [1] [2], Pannchoa, PANN, Pannatic, Kpopmap [2], Naver [1] [2], Café Daum, TIME, Sports Chosun, Soompi [1] [2], Huffington Post Korea, YouTube; Images via KBS2, Mnet, Starship Entertainment, Newsis]