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South Korean Students Battle Cyber-Bullying with Positive Comments

  • Jason Strother

In recent years there has been a string of high-profile celebrity suicides in South Korea. Authorities say many have been the result of hateful messages posted on-line. Cyber-bullying, as it is called, is a big concern in South Korea, one of the world's most wired countries. Some students are trying to counter bullies by flooding online forums with positive comments.

Students at the Hogook Middle School in Ilsan, just outside of Seoul, have a unique assignment.

Their task is to go online to message boards and other forums and write positive, cheerful comments. Teachers and other adults hope those comments will discourage others from leaving vicious and negative remarks.

Student Kim Hee-joo, 15, says on her school's homepage she writes thank you messages to friends, family and teachers. And also she sees people making bad comments about celebrities, she leaves nice messages, because when people see positive comments they are more likely to stop saying bad things and change their attitude.

The Hogook school is participating in a nationwide program called the Sunfull Movement. It is a play on words in Korean meaning good reply. The aim is to stop cyber-bullying and create a more positive atmosphere on the Internet.

Online attacks are an increasing problem in South Korea, one of the world's most connected nations. The National Police Agency receives tens of thousands of complaints every year, but there is not much that can be done to stop it, since attackers are often anonymous. In the worst cases, authorities say cyber-bullies have pressured some celebrities and ordinary people to take their own lives.

That is why the Sunfull Movement's founder, Min Byoung-chul, an English professor at Seoul's Kunkuk University, began the program three years ago.

Min says research indicates many of the attackers are under the age of 30.

"Young kids, they're stressed out because of schoolwork, they have to prepare for their college entrance examinations, they just write whatever they feel. That's one of the ways, so to speak, [to release] their frustration and stress," explained Min.

Lee Jae-ho, 16, was a victim of cyber attacks. He began receiving nasty messages on his homepage on a social networking site. Lee says once a bully begins an attack, it causes a chain reaction.

He says some people in South Korea just take pleasure in abusing others anonymously. And then other people see the negative comments and join in.

South Korea is not alone in combating cyber-bullying. An Australian high school recently suspended students for posting hateful comments about a teacher on Facebook. And lawmakers in one U.S. state are trying to make attacks using social media illegal following the suicide of a young girl who received abusive messages online.

The Sunfull Movement's founder Min Byoung-chul says South Korea, with its years of experience in dealing with these social problems, can serve as a model for other nations.

"And we can share our knowledge, share our experience, we can help them out as well, because it's coming. We are living in this mobile society, this Internet society. So it is our role to bring our efforts together so that we could prevent people from killing themselves from this cyber-bullying," added Min.

Back at the Hogook Middle School, teacher Kim Eun-young says she has seen a difference in her students since the school began the Sunfull program.

She says Koreans do not really say thank you or I love you to friends or parents. But this lets them be anonymous and not face-to-face, so they feel more comfortable saying those kinds of things.

Kim says bullying at the school, both online and offline, has decreased and students and teachers get along much better now.