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A channel for the witch hunt

June 26,2018
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CHOI KYU-JIN
*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Exile Jang Hyun-soo and his family from Korea,” insisted a posting on the Blue House’s online petition board after Korea lost to Mexico 1-2 at the second group match of the 2018 Russia World Cup. Some soccer fans vented their disappointment and anger by harshly criticizing the players. Jang, who usually plays for FC Tokyo, was targeted after he made a handling foul that allowed a penalty kick for Mexico. There are over 300 petitions that border on personal attacks on Jang on the Blue House website.

A surge of personal attacks on athletes is not new. During the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, South Korea’s speed skating team was criticized for bullying, and more than 600,000 people signed a Blue House petition demanding that Kim Bo-reum be disqualified from the national team. Criticism of Kim’s behavior was fierce. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korean Skating Union conducted an investigation and concluded that there was no intentional bullying, but no one took responsibility. Kim was criticized for bullying a teammate for three months and had to receive psychological counseling.

The World Cup and Olympics draw national attention. But in Korea, players who don’t perform well or make mistakes are often attacked online. Recently, some soccer players and their families closed their social media accounts after excessive criticism. A media scholar said that a kind of “social murder” of national team players happens often, but not many take the harm seriously.

It is especially serious that the Blue House petition board is being used as a channel for a witch hunt. The Blue House’s new media secretary, Chung Hye-seung, said there was no reason for the petition board not be become a “playground.” But a playground for sinister personal attacks, not for creating healthy public opinion, is hardly desirable. Recruiting website Incruit conducted a survey of 3,516 adult men and women, and 16.3 percent of the respondents expressed negative views about the petition. Another 17.8 percent of them said that the petition board could become an outlet for venting anger, and 17.5 percent were concerned about excessive attacks on certain individuals. The Blue House may need to install a device to filter excessive and reckless personal attacks.

It is an honor to represent the country on the national team, but losing a World Cup match should not bring unnecessary agony. After the game against Mexico, Jang cried and left the field alone. He needs more cheering and support than anyone else.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 25, Page 29