During T-ara N4‘s promotions, the singers were asked about the recent Hwayoung controversy. To recapitulate, Hwayoung’s removal from T-ara led to a PR meltdown. At that point, netizens had already been swapping rumors about bullying: rumors that were vehemently denied by T-ara and their representatives. To contrary netizens, however, the press releases only served to add fuel to the debate. Without knowing what really happened, advertising campaigns and drama producers wanted nothing to do with the disfavored T-ara. This was only one example of netizen rhetoric and its effects.
If the opportunity presents itself, netizens are quick to generate discussion. If the latest sensational topics are getting old or running out of steam, they simply invent new ones (Not to name names, but ahem, TaJinYo). For proof, especially in scandals, media doctored by fans or anti-fans are presented. Discussion often rapidly degenerates into mudslinging personal attacks against both the celebrities and against each other. These can get as serious as “[Insert celebrity name here] is a guilty little rat no matter what anybody says, he or she should go kill him- or herself. If you support him or her, you must be retarded, why don’t you do us all a favor and kill yourself before you reproduce?”
Many times, the circumstances are almost laughable.
Taking TaJinYo as an example again: the TaJinYo community had deluded themselves into thinking that Tablo owed it to them to come out and say that he did not have a diploma from Stanford. This was ridiculous because he did not owe them anything and he never lied about his education, anyway. There is something morbidly humorous about a crowd of delusional strangers sending a hip hop singer into the darkest period of his life by quibbling about his educational status.
Even more extreme was the case of Star King guest Lee Eun Ji. After she met Super Junior’s Kangin on the show, they snapped a quick photo together and she posted it online, not realizing that possessive fans and jealous classmates would make a point of lashing out at her. Already under distress from struggling with weight control (understandably difficult, as energy expenditure goes down with calorie consumption in order to resist weight change), Lee was further depressed by the offensive comments and eventually committed suicide.
It’s a phenomenon. A trash-talks B, B either suffers the consequences or fights back, which often leads to a vicious cycle of trying to scar a stranger emotionally. If B is a celebrity, it becomes war between netizens rallying behind either A or B.
The internet is a place where someone can say anything true, false, or exaggerated, without a sense of fear of censure or repercussion. Intervention does happen and netizens do get punished but at the moment of clicking, “Post,” there’s no real sensation of someone looking over their shoulders. These claims are not your cute little “Bazinga!”s from The Big Bang Theory but raw insults, varying from scathing dismissal to barely literate mockery, playground bully-style. But who are the authors behind the comments? T-ara’s defamers probably had good intentions, seeing Hwayoung as a victim to be defended against evil. Tablo’s detractors were probably dissatisfied folks going through some mutant form of a mid-life crisis. Lee Eun Ji’s haters were probably around her age and a fair number of them probably would not have said those comments to her face. Some of them actually apologized. These netizens are not (all) demonspawn but somehow, sitting behind a screen has made it feel O.K. to make assumptions about people that they really don’t know and verbally attack them.
This needs to end. Realistically, that is probably not going to happen. I’d like to challenge you to be that change. Criticize where you see fit, by all means, but use a little empathy and draw the line between attacking people and attacking what you think their actions were.