Korean star Sulli, formerly known for being part of the K-pop group f(x) and her longtime acting career, was found dead by her manager in her home last week. Standing out in an industry that puts much importance on moulding the image of their young stars to be wholesome and uncontroversial, Sulli was very outspoken about topics that are often deemed taboo in South Korean society such as her personal relationships, struggles with mental health issues, and cyberbullying (she’d gone on a hiatus from f(x) in 2014 due to comments she received online before leaving the group completely in 2015).
Although her cause of death hasn’t been entirely confirmed at this time, authorities have been investigating suicide as a possibility and reported that Sulli had been suffering from “severe depression”. The singer-actress was often attacked for her choice of not wearing a bra by sexually abusive comments online — a point of contention that the star spoke out about, encouraging her fans to take ownership over how to display their own bodies. Although blaming troll comments as the sole cause of Sulli’s passing would be oversimplifying of anything else she might’ve been going through, it is undeniable that receiving a daily stream of insults would take a mental toll on anybody who encounters them.
Sulli’s tragic death has sparked a new drive that could clear some of the toxicity in South Korean online culture: one day after her passing, “70 per cent of respondents to a RealMeter opinion poll said that websites ought to require commenters to post under their real names.” That same week, a bill named the ‘Sulli Act’ was put forward by 9 members of the National Assembly with the goal of preventing harmful online comments. According to the report, 100 organizations, including the Global Culture & Art Solidarity, Federation of Korean Trade Unions, and Korean Government Employee’s Union, and 200 celebrities who either have experience receiving hate comments or worked with Sulli will be backing the bill. It will entail platform operators to see and remove discriminatory comments in advance, and to block hateful users’ IP accesses.
However, this isn’t a first time attempt to hit back at cyberbullying in the country. In 2016, The Korea Entertainment Management Association (CEMA) had tried with the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and artists in affiliated companies to promote wholesome language on the internet, a campaign which the government was unable to sustain. In a recent statement, CEMA has said that “[they] will no longer stand idly by, and [will do their] best to eradicate cyber violence and malicious commenters. As other victims have done in the past, [they] will take the spreading of rumors and malicious comments and the crimes of the commenters very seriously, and we will no longer overlook these issues.” The Sulli bill will officially be brought to the table in early December, at the National Assembly’s Memorial Hall.
It is important to acknowledge that, while holding online users accountable for what they post online might create safer spaces for all, Sulli’s death should remind and raise awareness on the continuous issues that plague Korean society such as the controversy it creates around not only unconventionality — especially when it comes to young women being expected to act accordingly to a certain etiquette — but also around its K-idols whenever they stray away from the ‘perfect’ image they’re demanded to maintain, even in their personal lives. The latter has been especially addressed after the suicide of SHINee member Jong-hyun in 2017; Suga from the group BTS expressed his wishes in an interview by Billboard for “an environment where [they] can ask for help, and say things are hard when they’re hard”. This month, several K-pop stars have denounced the pressure they constantly face and for the need for better support: singer Park Jimin issued a warning against trolls on Friday via Instagram Stories, saying she would report all DMs harassing her. Concurrently, Victoria Song, Sulli’s friend and former member of f(x) herself, went online to criticize unkind anonymous commenters, ending her message with: “Please don’t tell others what they need to do with their lives. Even well-intentioned advice has its boundaries. Don’t overstep. What right do you have to tell a stranger to do this, or don’t do that, when your own life is a wreck? Everyone’s life is different and unique. Who has the right to tell someone else how to live? Focus on your own life. Live in the present. If you live with a kind heart, that is enough.”
Featured Image: Instagram/jelly_jilly