With the rising number of suicides caused by cyber-bullying, a South Korean movement is leading the way in efforts to restore civility to human interactions on the internet.
It began as a simple class assignment to 500 students in Professor Min Byoung-chul’s global leadership course at Seoul’s Kunkuk University. The response has culminated into a “Sunfull movement” to counter the culture of hatred on the internet and promote the value of mutual help and respect.
Min said he began the campaign in 2007 after the shocking suicides last year of two female stars, Jeong Da-bin and Yuni, who both hanged themselves after being diagnosed with severe depression. Before their deaths, their homepages had been deluged with disparaging allegations and scorn over their private lives and choices, such as undergoing plastic surgery.
A similar case emerged this week in the Boston school system, which has now set up a cyber-bullying tip line, after the suicide of a student.
Using a different tack, the Sunfull Movement seeks to flood online message boards with positive comments. The self-funded, nonprofit organization is aiming to alleviate the effect of anonymous derogatory message postings and actually increase the practice of posting positive and encouraging messages on boards.
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.
With his positive vision, Dr. Min gathered active involvement from prominent educators, lawyers, and celebrities to draw national attention to the dire need to clean up malicious comments in South Korea’s cyberspace.
The Hogook Middle School in Ilsan, is participating in the nationwide program. Student Kim Hee-joo, 15, says on her school’s homepage she writes thank you messages to friends, family and teachers. When 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.
“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.
In November 2009, the group named Sunfull Day as the first Friday of every November, and saw as many as 300,000 posts from high schools, universities and communities. It is currently in mid-preparation to set a Guinness Book Record of the longest string of positive comments.
The criteria of Sunfull comments are: (1) complimenting, (2) encouraging, (3) thanking, (4) comforting, (5) apologizing, (6) forgiving and (7) compromising.
Dr. Min’s goal is to attract ten million positive and encouraging comments (Sunfull postings) in Korea and ultimately extend this movement to attract six billion Sunfull postings worldwide. The English-languae professor introduced his anti-malicious online comment campaign on the U.S. radio show “The World” on March 8. He hopes that this movement will play a meaningful role in restoring civility to the global cyber world.
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.
(With information from VOA.org)