What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
With the rise of video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube and AfreecaTV, it has become easy to upload and share videos online. According to a 2019 survey, six out of ten Korean internet users used YouTube as a search engine. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and videos are even better than pictures as they capture a period of time rather than a single moment. Social media influencers communicate with their audiences via livestreams, and “YouTuber” has become the third most popular future occupation for Korean elementary school students.
Yet as everything has its ups and downs, the popularity of video-sharing platforms has also attracted attention seekers posting outrageous content to gain more viewers and money. This week’s WTS focuses on some of the related issues.
On December 12, Cho Doo-soon (68) was released from prison. Having served a 12-year sentence for kidnapping and brutally raping an eight-year-old girl (alias Na-young) in 2008, he returned to his house in Ansan, where he had committed the crime. In the months prior to his release, Na-young’s family had moved to a different city after exhausting all measures to prevent Cho returning to live in a house that was less than a kilometer from theirs. Moreover, a restraining order only puts about 100 meters between the victim and the perpetrator. The police stated that he would be closely monitored at all times to prevent a similar crime from being committed in the future, but it wasn’t a huge surprise to see public outcry regarding Cho’s release, as many people believed that his sentence had been too short considering the gravity of the crime.
Some of the residents of Ansan were concerned about Cho’s return to the city, as were others throughout the country, some of whom decided to take the matter of punishing him into their own hands.
On October 15, MMA fighter Myung Hyun Man, nicknamed the “Iron Gentleman”, posted on his YouTube channel that he would go visit Cho on the day of his release. He’d previously posted a video on his Facebook page, promising to kick Cho “in the balls” as a punishment for his crime. And he was not the only one. Some people protested his release right outside of the prison, while others uploaded posts and comments online about punishing him.
The problem, however, was that all this publicity attracted YouTubers and BJs (broadcasting jockeys, a Korean term referring to people who host live video streams), particularly on AfreecaTV, along with TV crews to the station as well as to his neighborhood in Ansan. Young YouTubers and BJs in their teens, 20s, and 30s flooded his neighborhood, making it impossible for the residents to carry on with their everyday lives.
In an interview with Kim Hyun-jung on CBS, Shim Song-jeong, the head of the residents’ committee of the neighborhood where Cho lives, described the problems that arose upon Cho’s release from prison:
It’s quite serious. The biggest problem is the noise, because of the crowds of people gathering here. And since there’s traffic control, there are problems with transportation and parking. And then the people who come discard cigarette butts and trash. Some people also take off their clothes during their live broadcasts… People come to do live videos to gain popularity, and they’re not helpful for any of the residents of the town. And since [the police] are restricting access [to the neighborhood], some people go to the top of the nearby buildings, without permission, to do live broadcasts. All this is making it seriously difficult for the residents to go on with their lives.
— Shim Jong-seong, head of the residents’ committee in Cho Doo-soon’s neighborhood, December 15, 2020.
Currently, two YouTubers have been arrested, charged with obstruction of justice for blocking the police transport vehicle and for getting on top of the vehicle. A teen has been arrested for trying to break into Cho Doo-soon’s apartment by climbing up the gas pipes, and there are five other people who are under investigation.
Although these people claimed to bring Cho Doo-soon to justice, many people saw their actions as stunts to make a profit off of a social issue. The Mayor of Ansan, Yun Hwa-seop, pleaded with YouTubers who are using Cho Doo-soon as a means to make money or to increase the number of viewers to leave Ansan, and asked YouTube to stop and remove videos that contain images of Cho Doo-soon’s neighborhood and residents for being in violation of privacy.
Another issue that was hotly debated online this past month was the issue surrounding BJ Chulgu. A popular BJ on AfreecaTV, Lee Ye-jun, better known as BJ Chulgu, recently made the news for insulting a deceased celebrity about her looks and then issuing a “correction” to insult another celebrity. He and his wife (Jeon Jihye, better known as BJ OZilhye) have become notorious for making provocative and controversial remarks. In 2012, he was suspended from AfreecaTV for putting on a performance imitating a sex offender; in 2014, he was suspended for pouring 4.5 liters of soy sauce on a couple of elementary school children who visited him with the dream of becoming BJs. Considering his past track record, the recent mishap was something that could have been overlooked. Even his “unapologetic” apology video, in which he shaved his head “in shame” but did not “control his facial expression”, aroused outrage from those who were watching but the general public simply read the news and moved on with their lives.
The news that made his name a familiar one to many people, parents in particular, was his daughter’s enrollment in a private elementary school. Groundless rumors flew around in online communities for mothers, known as “mom cafes (맘카페)”, in Incheon, where BJ Chulgu lives, about which school his daughter was going to attend in the coming year, and scathing comments followed about BJ Chulgu’s actions and remarks along with concerns that such a person’s child would be bad influence on other children. Some even argued that the school should not allow his daughter to attend the school. This led private elementary schools in Incheon to issue public notices, stating that people were mistaken and that theirs was not the one that BJ Chulgu’s daughter was enrolling in. Internet users eventually found the school, and some of the parents complained to the school to protest her enrollment. An online debate ensued over whether or not it was right for children to be blamed and discriminated against for their parents’ words and actions.
On December 9, the school that BJ Chulgu’s daughter enrolled in sent a newsletter addressed to the parents, explaining that all children are given equal chance to enter the school and that children cannot be encouraged to give up their spots. It further stated:
[Our school] has taken this opportunity to prepare even more thoroughly for the 2021 school year. We hope that the following school plan will ease your mind about the recent unsettling issue.
- [Our school] will implement education with communication between the student, parents, and teacher to strive to instill the right values in each and every person involved.
- With the increasing importance of ethics education in information and communication technologies in recent years, we will invite experts in the field to properly educate the children. …
- The principal of the school will take responsibility for all of the problems that arise going forward. …— Principal of the private school that BJ Chulgu’s daughter is enrolled in, December 9, 2020.
South Korean columnist and TV personality Heo Ji-woong also expressed his opinion on the matter via Instagram on December 10:
I can fully understand the [parents’] concern that a child born to such parents might have a negative influence on my own child. If I were in their shoes, I would also be concerned. But we are a society that does not judge a family for the parents’ sins, as a rule. We cannot exclude a child from the group because we don’t like her parents. There would be no hope or possibility for a community where the parents’ sins are passed down to the children and everyone is judged for their parents’ actions.
— Heo Ji-woong, columnist and TV personality, December 10, 2020.
People are still divided on the issue, and it has led to discussions regarding children’s rights, particularly regarding videos and pictures of the children that their parents post online. One can only hope that this will lead to a more productive debate on parenting and children’s rights in this digital age.
One last incident I’d like to address involves another YouTuber, HayanTree. With 690,000 subscribers, HayanTree is a popular YouTuber who reviews matjip (good restaurants) in Korea. On December 7, he visited a restaurant specializing in raw crab marinated in soy sauce (간장게장, ganjanggejang) and claimed that he found rice on one of the crabs, raising suspicion about the restaurant reusing leftovers. The video was viewed over a million times, and the restaurant had to shut down due to malicious phone calls and comments online despite the owner’s claims of innocence. Then, a couple of days later, HayanTree took down the previous video and released an apology video, explaining that the rice he found on the crabs was his own, which was mixed in with the soy sauce he poured on the crab dish. Yet the video was not enough to bring the restaurant back into business.
On December 16, the owner of the restaurant submitted a petition to Cheong Wa Dae, asking for legal and institutional means to prevent the damage incurred by business owners for false YouTube videos:
… I am resentful that the restaurant that I have managed diligently despite the year-long Covid-19 pandemic had to shut down because of a single false video created by a YouTuber.
I am very frustrated, wondering whether it would be possible to stop the gapjil and tyranny of YouTubers, which is even scarier than Covid. I request that the government create legal and institutional frameworks to help business owners focus on their businesses.
There are about six million small business owners in the Republic of Korea aside from me, and these businesses are important as they support the livelihoods of 20 million people, including the immediate families and employees.
In an era such as today when individual YouTubers are exponentially increasing in number, I believe that there are other business owners who are currently suffering from the indiscriminate gapjil and tyranny of some YouTubers, who lack social experience and have no consideration for the damage they are inflicting on small business owners while being set on gaining popularity for themselves. Such damage will increase exponentially in the future.
Everyone is facing difficulties due to the Covid pandemic, and I hope that an institutional framework can be established as soon as possible to prevent further damage to small business owners.
— Owner of a restaurant that had to shut down after HayanTree’s video, December 16, 2020.