BigHit Music, the South Korean record label, says it is cracking down on “malicious posts” linked to K-pop supergroup BTS – and expects fans to provide information to help with the crackdown.
On June 29, BigHit posted a notice on social networking platform Weverse warning that the company had recently filed “additional criminal complaints against posts containing personal attacks and defamation,” using new information provided by from fans and collected through its own monitoring activities.
Weverse’s note came two weeks after BTS shook up the pop music world by revealing the seven-member group was taking an indefinite hiatus to pursue solo projects. The group’s fanbase, known as ARMY, went on Twitter to rant at journalists in the United States for their depictions of the band‘s hiatus, which was originally translated by the parent company of BigHit HYBE as a “pause” on the video of a dinner party where band members discussed the issue. (“We’re going to take a break now,” Suga said in Korean.)
While ARMY is well-known for criticizing online posters that make unflattering comments about BTS, toxic cyberbullying is real in Korea — and has been traced to several high-profile suicides, including in the world of K- pop.
BigHit says a poster uploaded posts containing “insults against [BTS]” using dozens of different IP addresses on DC Inside, a South Korean internet forum. “We monitored these types of malicious posts and filed criminal complaints against the poster for any posts containing malicious comments,” the company said.
The label says it has found other defamatory posts with “extremely malicious and delusional content” and is taking legal action against the posters. “The complaint we have filed includes platforms not mentioned in this notice and we would also like to inform you that we cannot reveal full details of the content of the complaint to ensure a proper investigation.”
BigHit described their Weverse rating as an “update” of their activities to protect BTS. “Our company routinely pursues legal action against perpetrators of malicious activity related to BTS, including defamation, personal attacks, sexual harassment, spreading baseless information, and malicious criticism,” the label said. .
The company declined to settle the cases, noting that “the defendant of an ongoing investigation has recently attempted to settle the case but there will be no settlement or leniency…our policy of non-settlement and leniency remains in force”. BigHit urged fans to continue to use a hotline ([email protected]) to report any instances of abuse.
Tension over criminal defamation and cyberbullying
In South Korea, unlike the United States (at the federal level), defamation is a criminal charge – and telling the truth is not always a defence. According to South Korea’s penal code, “blatantly false facts” can lead to up to seven years in prison. But if the court finds that a defendant made truthful statements with “intent to commit defamation” and not in the “public interest”, then a defendant can still be found guilty and sentenced to up to to three years in prison or a fine.
Criminal libel creates an atmosphere of constrained expression. A defamation law like South Korea’s, which “fails to sufficiently distinguish between truth and lies, can act as a powerful tool of repression”, says Pen America, a freedom advocacy organization. ‘expression. International groups like the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have repeatedly called for the decriminalization of defamation around the world because of the way it can limit freedom of expression.
In the entertainment world, the threat of defamation charges has often led South Korean media and blogs to self-censor – gossip publications withholding celebrity names when reporting salacious information. And in recent years, following high-profile suicides, news portals have removed comment sections just for entertainment stories.
Despite more protective laws for targets of potentially defamatory speech, South Korea has come under pressure to crack down on cyberbullying after a string of high-profile suicides.
In 2019, actress and singer Sulli was found dead aged 25 after years of online abuse. She rose to prominence as a member of girl group f(x), starting out as a trainee for K-pop company SM Entertainment, and later became known for being outspoken about her mental health issues, cyberbullying and even his romantic relationships.
After taking a hiatus from music in 2015 to focus on acting – SM Entertainment said in 2014 that she was “in physical and mental pain from malicious and false rumors that were being spread about her” – she moved on. is hanged on the second floor of her home in Seoul.
The suicide has prompted several celebrities to call for better support for those in the K-pop industry.
Then in February, influencer Cho Jang Mi27, known as BJ Jammi on YouTube and Twitch, was found dead in her home, with someone claiming to be an uncle writing on Twitch that she was suffering from severe depression due to online hate speech “and of rumours,” Korea News reported.
Cho had been accused of making a hand gesture in one of her videos implying that she hated men; she had called for the bullying that called it “hate men” to stop.
His death came a day later Kim In-hyeok, a 28-year-old professional volleyball player, was found dead. He had pleaded with people to stop sending hateful comments and spreading online rumors about his appearance and supposed sexuality.
Days after news of Cho’s death was announced, a petition was posted on the South Korean president’s website calling for punishment for YouTubers and online commentators who spread rumors or hate speech about Cho. . Within days, it had been signed by nearly 150,000 people.