KOREA: Celebrities feel negative effects of internet

Korea's internet culture allows for rapid spread of stars' private information; fallout can injure careers

The Korea Times
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

By Han Eun-jung

One of the things the public witnessed following the leak of the document dubbed "Entertainers’ X-Files" was the amazing and somewhat frightening power of the Internet.

Since its reported initial spill last Monday evening, in only a matter of 24 hours, the media and public had sunk its teeth into the confidential document that contained personal and potentially damaging information about the lives of local celebrities, and the story soon made headlines of all the major local portal sites such as Daum, Yahoo Korea and Naver.

A week has passed and as of today, 55 of the 99 celebrities mentioned in the document have filed a class action libel suit against the Cheil Communications and Dongseo Research, the two companies responsible for the compiling of unconfirmed information acquired through interviews with TV and tabloid reporters. In addition, 359 people from the show business industry have expressed their intentions to boycott the advertisement firm Cheil.

The 113-page Power Point file is still afloat in cyberspace and netizens are still commenting on message boards, more of them nasty than supportive.

Stars like Bae Yong-joon, who stands at the eye of the Korean Wave storm abroad and popular actress Jun Ji-hyun have made clear through their websites that the rumors are false. Kwon Sang-woo, who is currently starring in the lead role of MBC miniseries "Sad Love Song (Sulpun Yonga)" said in recent interview that because of the break-out of the case he has seriously considering quitting show business altogether.

According to the National Internet Development Agency, Korea ranks second in the number of Internet users amongst OECD countries and first in terms of the number of people with high speed Internet. However, the country ranks 28th when it comes down to information security suggesting just how vulnerable the public is of being victimized by cyber terror.

The following are just a few examples of how this new type of terror has taken on the public figures and the public.

The winter of 1999 is likely to be remembered as when one of the first instances and the one that put "cyber terror" in the Korean vernacular. Video footage of Oh Hyun-kyung, a popular beauty queen-turned-actress, having sex with her then boyfriend model Ham Sung-ook spread through the Internet, CDs were burned and passed around among friends resulting in the end of Oh's career. In an effort to keep a low profile, Oh moved temporarily to the United States. Today she is married, no longer making appearances on television programs.

B-yangBaek Ji-young was riding high having establishing a successful career as a pop diva when it all came to a skidding halt in November 2000. Suddenly all the hit tracks like "Choice(Sontaek)" and "Burden(Pudam)" she had under her belt didn’t seem to matter when Internet users got a hold of an old sex tape her ex-boyfriend had made before her 1999 debut. She was shunned by the public and television broadcasters, fearing ratings would drop, no longer turned to her for guest appearances and despite her numerous attempts to return to the music scene she has never reached the heights of her past success. Her 2000 release "Rouge," "Tres" which came out the next year and most recent, 2003’s "Miso" barely making any noise and phasing out of the publics’ attention all under a month.

Model-turned-actress Byun Jung-soo, who is also known for her fashion flair, was in the middle of filming a drama when she got a phone call from her husband asking her if she was all right. Apparently someone had set off a rumor through the Internet that she had been killed in a car accident. The pain caused by the senseless practical joke left her no choice but to file charges against the 19-year-old college student that had turned herself in. Although the case ended with Byun forgiving the girl and dropping charges, a rumor of the death of a high profile celebrity was a first in the history of local cyber terror.

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005