Bill aims to reduce cyberbullying via KakaoTalk

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Bill aims to reduce cyberbullying via KakaoTalk

In many parts of the world, cyberbullying takes place on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But in Korea, verbal abuse has become increasingly common on the country’s most popular instant mobile messaging application, on which perpetrators can lock a victim in a group chat room and send profanities in turn.

In response to growing instances of cyberbullying via KakaoTalk, a ruling party lawmaker has come up with a bill that calls for users to be sent a notice when they are invited to join a group chat room.

Currently, there is no notice or permission required if a user is sent an invitation. Under the proposal, users would have the option of denying a group chat request.

Presently, all users can invite anyone on his or her contact list to a group chat without that person’s consent. A participant may leave a chat room but can be forced back upon repeated invitations.

Simply ditching the application isn’t easy, however, because the messaging program has become the predominant method of communication in Korea, with 93 percent of smartphone users utilizing it.

Saenuri Party Rep. Yun Jae-ok said that the current KakaoTalk system perpetuates cyberbullying and added that his bill is intended to curb abuse that stems from group chat rooms.

The representative, who serves on the National Assembly’s education, culture, sports and tourism committee, put the bill forward on Thursday.

“So far, victims have been forced to join chat rooms, regardless of whether they want to,” Yun said. “But with this bill, victims will be able to block perpetrators, which can contribute to the creation of a healthier environment for mobile communication.”

According to a survey this year of 4,000 middle and high school students by the National Youth Policy Institute, 27.7 percent said they had experienced some form of online bullying.

The Ministry of Education also found that 9.4 percent of 4.98 million elementary, middle and high school students polled in March suffered from cyberbullying.

The bullying often takes different forms. One of the most common insults is spitting nasty words at a target in a chat room. A more subtle bullying tactic involves inviting a victim to a chat room, after which the rest of the members leave, making the target feel abandoned or alienated.

Increasing instances of online abuse have even given rise to the terms KakaoTalk Prison and KakaoTalk Hell, highlighting the limited control victims have.

Experts say that bullying waged online or via mobile phones poses a serious threat because it can be omnipresent.

“When one is cyberbullied, he or she will be left in despair for fear of facing insults anywhere, anytime,” said Lee Chang-ho, a researcher at the National Youth Policy Institute. “We need to come up with measures to shield victims from [this kind of] perpetual bullying.”

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]




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