South Korean educator brings positivity campaign to China’s Internet

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-14 19:58:02

Sunfull, a movement started by a South Korean professor, is set to begin recruiting Chinese volunteers next year. The movement calls for netizens to promote a friendlier cyberspace environment by encouraging friendlier interactions online.

Photo: Li Hao/GT

Min Byoung-chul, a well-known English educator and business communication professor at Konkuk University in Seoul, gave the students in his English class an odd bit of homework in 2007.

He asked them to leave positive, encouraging comments for people being attacked on the Internet. As a result, his 570 students left a total of 5,700 kind posts on the blogs of stars who were being called names or cursed at.

At the time, a South Korean singer, U-Nee, had just killed herself. According to media reports, the singer had finally had enough after years of vicious attacks on the Internet.

Min read the report and was shocked at the effect of the online abuse. He gave his students that homework assignment to see what kind of results might come of it. That small homework assignment ended up snowballing into a bigger campaign, the Sunfull Movement, one which encourages online kindness, and is now on the way to China.

There have been many cases of cyber bullying in China. Recently, a young man broadcast his suicide live on Weibo while a number of Net users cheered him on or made sarcastic comments. In the wake of the incident, many experts have weighed in on the need for measures to regulate the online environment. 

The Chinese government is also an advocate of purifying the online environment, while the Sunfull Movement is seen by some as a grass-roots effort along the same lines. Perhaps as a result, both campaigns have been criticized as measures to control speech.

Looking on the bright side

Min launched the Sunfull Movement in May, 2007 in South Korea with the support of celebrities to promote civilized behavior in cyberspace by posting positive comments. The name "sunfull" is chosen because it's similar to the word "good replies" in Korean.

"In 2010, a report on Internet activity by the South Korean National Information Society Agency stated that 61 percent of malicious comments posted online were written by teenagers," Min said.  Thus the priority of his campaign was helping teenagers understand the seriousness of cyber bullying.

Schools soon started to join in by offering "Sunfull education," teaching students to be considerate and encouraging to others and having them post positive online comments. Volunteer groups began to form throughout the country, some of them offering free activities like concerts.

Sunfull's official website explains that members post comments online to counter cyber bullying. The goal is to generate a large number of positive messages to change the direction of discussion on the Internet. And the messages aren't just platitudes.

"Our members show an understanding of the situation in their comments, within the abilities of the Sunfull member," the website read. "Posting simple comments, such as 'You're not alone' and 'We support you' does offer support and encouragement, but Sunfull members are urged to do more. A Sunfull comment explains why the person is 'not alone' and why the person is being 'supported.'"

To date, more than 5 million comments have been posted. More than 6,000 schools, 100 groups and 294 congressmen in South Korea have joined the movement.

Min said he thinks the movement has had an impact, and he hopes to expand it overseas.

"Last year, the Ulsan, South Korea Office of Education measured a 52 percent decrease in in-school violence (fighting), as well as a significant decrease in the use of profanity, six months after implementing Sunfull," he said.

In September, a Sunfull Internet publicity volunteer group was formed in South Korea, consisting of Korean and Chinese students, the first step in expanding the campaign's reach overseas. 

Cyber bullying incidents

As it has in South Korea, the spread of the Internet has brought with it the spread of online rumors and bullying.

Last month, a 19-year-old boy surnamed Zeng broadcasted his suicide live on Weibo. Media reported that he allegedly broke up with his girlfriend, then began to post messages on Weibo saying he planned to suffocate himself with a coal burner in his room.

Over the course of four hours, he posted photos of his suicide as it progressed, and wrote many posts describing his status. In his last posts he said, "I'm sorry, I'm leaving this world" and "I think this is really it."

His Weibo posts were reposted thousands of times. While many Net users left comments encouraging him to live on and reported the case to the police, a huge number of others left sarcastic comments or "watched" the suicide as if it were a show.

"If you don't love yourself, you can't blame others for not loving you," one comment read.

"I just have one question, after you die, can I have your iPhone 5s?" another read.

The Beijing News reported that after the young man's death, some of these netizens expressed regret, saying they didn't know the young man was actually committing suicide. Nonetheless, their actions led to discussion on proper behavior on the Internet. 

Lü Xiaoquan, a lawyer at Beijing Zhongze Women's Counseling and Service Center, told the Global Times that since China has yet to implement a real-name registration system for its Internet, there still tends to be a lot of indecent behavior and language online.

Check out the comments section on any online newspaper report and you'll see they are filled with vicious attacks, he said. This phenomenon will have a negative influence on people, especially the young.

"We need to deal with the issues in three ways: we need clear government policies or laws regulating the environment online, we need to effectively carry out those laws and policies, and we need to spread positive energy and values," he said.

Bringing Sunfull to China

Yang Lisha heard about the Sunfull Movement while she was a foreign exchange student in South Korea. She volunteered to be a student representative for Sunfull's cross-border publicity group, which currently organizes talks and exchanges between China and South Korea.

Yang joined because she wanted to experience Korean culture more deeply, she said. She thinks the country emphasizes a human touch in its education, including social volunteer work for college credits, and teaching children to express sympathy and love towards others.

"When the [ferry wreck that killed 304 passengers] happened in April, I saw flower wreaths and ribbons with greetings written on them everywhere," she said. "It didn't feel staged at all, it was quite heart-warming when everybody around you started doing things like that."

That was when she began to think there should be education like this in China, she said.

In November, Min came to the Beijing Language and Culture University to give a talk on Sunfull. He hopes this can be the first step in recruiting 10 million volunteers in China next year, when he launches the program overseas.

Hu Enrui is one of more than 300 students who went to the talk and expressed interest in becoming a volunteer. The topic was new to her, Hu said. She had never encountered anything like it during the course of her education, similar to many students in China.

Before the talk, although there had already been Sunfull-related activities between the two countries, the movement was not well-known in China.

"Following the 2008 and 2013 Sichuan earthquakes, we ran positive comments campaigns for the victims," Min said. A section of the page was presented in both Korean and Chinese, providing translations of condolence phrases for netizens as well as thank-you notes.

In February, Sunfull promoted transnational rallies to encourage netizens from China and South Korea to root for the athletes participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

Cleaning the Net

Because of the country's strong emphasis on freedom of expression, South Korea's regulations of the Internet have always been the target of much criticism.

In 2008, aiming to crack down on harmful messages on the Internet, the South Korean government implemented new regulations requiring portal sites to check the residence registration numbers of all bloggers and discussion board users, a policy that many saw as infringing upon Web users' rights, reported the Joong Ang Daily.

"I think the Internet needs 'healthy criticism,' but not malicious replies. These replies usually spread rumors or they don't respect other commentators' integrity," Min said when asked about the issue during an online chat with Chinese Net users.

"The moral standards for 'kind replies' mean sticking to the facts and respecting the other party. If you meet these two standards, you can express [yourself] as freely as you want," Min said.

This November, after Min's talk, he met with Ren Xianliang, deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), who said Sunfull has the similar goals as the Chinese government's "Cleaning the Web" campaign.

Every year, the CAC launches campaigns meant to clean up the Internet, targeting porn and harmful content in particular.

Lü, the lawyer with Beijing Zhongze Women's Counseling and Service Center, said while it's easy for people to think such activity restrict one's right of speech, he thinks it is necessary if carried out right.

There are already activities in China that parallel what Sunfull is trying to accomplish, though the Chinese versions have been initiated by media organizations rather than from the grass roots. From June to October, the People's Daily news portal invited Net users to comment positively with the hash tag "kind replies," holding an awards ceremony for the best 30 commentators in October.

The first prize went to a Net user who commented on a photo of an one-legged girl wearing high heels, saying in part "One person's struggle may not be seen by others, but the result sure is encouraging. How praise-worthy!"

At the ceremony, 25 newspapers and websites jointly published an agreement that, as media outlets, they would respect certain rules, such as discussing questions reasonably, respecting individual privacy and preventing the spread of rumors.

Newspaper headline: Kindly yours

Posted in: In-Depth

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