Pop Culture Critic Holds Agencies Responsible For Sasaeng Behavior

With the growth of K-pop and fandom culture, the way we think about popular idol groups’ personal information has changed as well.

Back when fandom culture was in its infancy, when fans would camp out in front of first-generation idols’ dorms and follow them around on their personal schedules, this was not yet considered to be “sasaeng fan” behavior. Similarly, the idols’ agencies did not consider it a serious problem.

But with the advent of second-generation idols, the term “sasaeng fan” (so-called because they invade idols’ private [sasaeng] life) came into more common use. Even people outside of fandom culture began recognizing “sasaeng fans” because of the widespread negative impact of their actions, such as causing traffic accidents in reckless pursuit of celebrities, setting up CCTVs in private parking lots, and even breaking and entering into dorms and residences.

However, the reason that “sasaengs” are able to stalk idols’ daily lives is because of “information.” The leak of idols’ personal information has grown from a few sasaengs sharing the information to use among themselves to a commercial industry, with the information available to anyone for monetary compensation.

The seeds of these issues were sown by the management agencies of the first generation of idols. Pop culture critic Kim Sung Soo said, “In the past, agencies would encourage fans gathering at certain concerts and broadcasts by letting them know who would appear. In spreading that information, they didn’t put protections in place and sasaengs took advantage of that. Since the agencies were negligent or half-hearted in dealing with this issue, it opened the door for people to sell that private information more aggressively. Management agencies are supposed to take care of idols’ human rights as well, but instead they focused on how to take advantage of the exposure. I think that the agencies need to realize where they’ve been negligent from now on.”

In the absence of regulations and coping manuals for management agencies, the high level of technology has led to a lack of information control for the general public. Meanwhile, the nature of the domestic entertainment industry itself continues to speed forward without brakes.

Kim Sung Soo said, “The development of social media is especially serious. Some agencies work hard to control their artist’s private lives. But idols can be traced from a single photo uploaded without any thought. There are areas where everything can be revealed as long as you have the will and a set of skills that anyone can acquire. The technology has gotten to a point where it’s hard to control. In that case, they have to build good standards and instructions, but they haven’t done that yet. Now that the industry has grown too hard to control, the agencies have not taken responsibility or prepared adequately for the consequences.”

What about the legal consequences for such behavior? According to the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, stories [about an idol], recorded calls or voice recordings, information about a girlfriend/boyfriend, and flight information are not considered to be personal information. However, everything else does fall under that category.

Sung Choon Il, an attorney for the Lawyers for Democratic Society, said, “The Act on the Protection of Personal Information has regulations for collection and for management. When collecting or transferring information about an idol, it is the rule that they must first get consent. As the people who sell this kind of information likely obtained it illegally and without the consent of both sides, it would constitute a violation of the law.”

However, it is difficult for an investigation to take place without alerting the victim (the idol or celebrity) and their agency. Attorney Sung said, “Eventually, the victim or the agency will have to bring up the problem themselves. There will be a lot of people affected by the investigation, as well as a lot of damages, and normally the complainant has to gather and present proof. Without that, it’s hard to conduct a formal investigation. If a complaint is filed and investigated, the people who consumed the information, knowing it was obtained illegally, will also be punished.”

Eventually, the results will vary depending on how aggressively the agency responds to the leaking and commercial sale of idols’ personal information. In other countries, the sale of such information can result in huge damage compensations paid in civil suits. There are already various legal precedents, so regulation is not difficult.”

If the agency continues to be passive on the issue, then it is also necessary to publicly monitor the organizations involved in order to protect the rights of entertainers. Kim Sung Soo said, “The problem only ends when a hard-headed, criminal-penalty approach is taken to those who stalk celebrities. In this vein, the people who buy the information are also criminals – it is a mutual crime. There is a tendency to be lenient when the purchasers are fans, but this must be overcome.”

He added, “The job of studying the damage and severity of excessive exposure of idols’ private lives should belong to social public opinion. In theUnited States, labor unions are very well-developed so things like this can be worked out in the standard contracts between agencies and artists. For example, if the contract says, ‘The dorm cannot be revealed to the public’ and the artist is unable to sleep due to the exposure of said dorm, the agencies have to pay damages.”

It is clear that through the sale of their personal information, idols are experiencing severe privacy violations. As the amount of people who desire that information increases, the problem only gets worse, and “fans” who buy and sell such information must reflect on their actions.

What do you think of Kim Sung Soo’s criticisms of management agencies and sasaeng culture?

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