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South Korea: Social Media Controversy Surrounds Sports Broadcaster's Death

The death by suicide on May 23, 2011, of national television channel MBC sports announcer Song Ji-seon in South Korea, has sparked considerable controversy regarding social media in the country.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, but this latest case has opened a new debate on the public health issue.

Social media involvement?

Song came to public attention after the accidental disclosure of her relationship with Korean baseball player Lim Tae-hoon via a journal-style post on her Cyworld [ko] account (Korean version of Facebook), which led to his subsequent denial of the attachment.

The original post was removed, but the screen capture image of the post can be found online, and despite hacking allegations, is believed to have been written by Song herself.

The troubled presenter is thought to have faced criticism [ko] from malicious online comments regarding the relationship, and faced possible suspension or sacking from work over the issue. She sparked concern [ko] amongst her Twitter followers regarding her state of mind, with a number of worrying tweets up until her death.

Image of Lim Tae-hoon.com's main page. Image captured by author.

Image of Lim Tae-hoon.com's main page. Image captured by author.

A special website LimTae-hoon.com [ko] has been set up, on the one hand revealing alleged salacious aspects of Song's relationship with Lim and on the other paying condolences to the deceased. The site's several pages temporarily halted yesterday due to high web traffic.

Lim has faced online abuse, with several portal sites blocking the comments sections of news articles reporting on the case.

Mainstream media response

Major South Korean sports newspaper, Sport Seoul, has implied [ko] that social media played a role in Song's death, quoting a government official as saying that lies and speculative articles are shared and rapidly spread via social media.

Net users have strongly criticized the comment as irresponsible and devious. Suicide is known to be a complex issue often with multiple causes.

Certain ways of presenting and portraying suicide in the media appear to precipitate suicidal behaviour in vulnerable people, and most news organisations follow guidelines on reporting responsibly.

Twitter user @rselove83 tweeted [ko]:

송지선 아나운서의 죽음을 SNS 탓으로 돌리는 무책임한 언론기사네요 http://bit.ly/mxMi3z 악성댓글이 달리도록 자극적인기사를 쓰고 또 그 악성댓글로 다시 기사화한 것 너네 언론들이 아니었는지.[...]

Those irresponsible news articles are blaming social media for Song Ji-Seon's death. It is none other than you journalists who started all this by writing sensational news articles which have introduced malicious comments. Then, you guys are writing articles about those comments.[...]

A sports fan, Min-tong (@MintAcademy) tweeted [ko]:

“SNS가 그녀를 벼랑으로 몰았나” 송지선 아나운서 자살이 꼭 SNS 때문인것 처럼 말하는 기사들 뭐니… SNS는 도구일 뿐이고 그걸 쓰는 사람들이 문제인거잖아. 이걸 빌미로 SNS 규제 할려고 그러니?

There are articles such as “Has social media pushed her over the edge”. They are blaming social media for her suicide. Social media is a mere tool. Not the social media itself, but people using it (wrong way) is the source of the problem. Mainstream media want to use this case as an excuse for censoring social media, aren't they?

A female sports broadcaster and a colleague of Song's has commented [ko] that the South Korean sports world is still a hostile place for women.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit www.befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.

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