SEOUL: A new South Korean thriller about Internet-obsessed youngsters is seeking to shed light on a growing culture of cyber-bullying in a country with one of the world’s highest youth suicide rates.
“Socialphobia”, which received its world premier at the 19th Busan International Film Festival on Saturday, follows two nascent cyberbullies who become targets themselves.
The first feature film by director Hong Seok-Jae offers a vivid, detailed portrayal of the South’s vibrant yet highly volatile online landscape, where a petty online debate can quickly escalate.
South Korea is one of the world’s most wired nations, with broadband Internet omnipresent and more than 70 percent of the population owning smartphones.
Major Internet portals prominently display hourly updates on the latest trending topics — a practice critics accuse of fanning a herd mentality.
Aggressive cyber bullying, especially targeting celebrities, has been blamed for numerous suicides in recent years including the death of a leading actress in 2008.
It is against this backdrop that the film’s main characters — aspirant police officers named Kim Ji-Woong and Ha Yong-Min — get embroiled in an Internet witch hunt involving a young woman.
Angered by her tweet about a young soldier killed on duty, netizens unearth the woman’s real name, photo and home address.
A group of young men, including Kim and Ha, then organise a trip — live broadcast on a video-streaming website — to her home where they find her dead after apparently hanging herself.
The two young men then become the targets of a cyber backlash, as they are blamed for her suicide.
Seeking redemption, the boys convince themselves that the girl was murdered and set out to investigate her past.
The plot and its characters were inspired by real-life events and Internet commentators, Hong said in an interview with AFP.
“South Korea has such an overgrown Internet community where young people continually form an anonymous clique and look for a battle against some perceived ‘enemy’,” the 31-year-old said.
“For many, bullying seems to have become another form of online game they play,” he added.
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