In South Korea, Covid-19 Comes With Another Risk: Online Bullies

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BUSAN, South Korea — The stigma that riveted South Korea’s online busybodies began when Kim Ji-seon check out into a beachside condominium in February. A 29-year-old office worker planning a June alliance, she had nothing more salacious in mind than meeting with fellows of her church to organize a youth program.

Then Ms. Kim tested positive for the coronavirus — and the detachments of her life became grist for South Korea’s growing culture of cyberbullying and false trail, a phenomenon that has complicated the country’s widely praised digital attainment to find those infected with the coronavirus.

Using sophisticated digital roads, the South Korean authorities publicly revealed Ms. Kim’s age, gender, church bigwig and recent whereabouts. Extrapolating from these details, online trolls accused Ms. Kim of relationship to a religious cult. They matched her itinerary with that of another church fellow who had tested positive and concluded she was cheating on her fiancé.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Ms. Kim, now 30, in an meeting. “How could they make fun of people who were struggling for their persists? But with an IV stuck in my arm, I could not do much about it from my hospital bed.”

Governments about the world have grappled with misinformation and outright lies around the coronavirus. In South Korea, that struggle has become uniquely bosom.

South Korea owed much of its relative success in finding those infected with the virus to its hostile use of surveillance camera footage, smartphone data and credit card minutes records.

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Credit…Woohae Cho for The New York Times

But it has also empowered trolls, harassers and other 21st-century around discovers. The authorities have since pulled back on some of their varied obtrusive tactics, though many South Koreans still set up raised relatively few outcries over privacy.

“I don’t think this brings a lack of respect for privacy in South Korea,” said Park Kyung-sin, a professor at Korea University Infuse with of Law and an expert on privacy. “Rather, people seem to think that at a in the nick of time b soon of a pandemic, privacy can be sacrificed for the sake of public health.”

Some people, delight in Ms. Kim, have paid a price. Online harassers labeled her a “cougar,” advocating she used sex to proselytize to a younger man. Others said that, should she get having a bun in the oven, the infant should undergo a paternity test. Officials in the city of Busan debunked the rumors, but they withed to spread online.

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​Once discharged, she filed complaints with a main web portal to remove the fake content. But after trying to hound dozens of blogs, she communicated up. “There were too many of them,” she said.

The global fight against the pandemic has animate privacy concerns across countries. Governments, including those of Italy, Israel and Singapore, be undergoing used cellphone data to track potentially infected people and their reaches. China has employed mobile phone apps with little disclosure close to how they track people. Venezuela has urged neighbors to turn each other in.

South Korea, an intensely buckled country where nearly everyone totes a smartphone, has taken those strains a step beyond. In addition to making some personal data eminent, the authorities sometimes use it to send text messages to people whose cellular text history indicates they were in proximity to an infected person. Other than China, South Korea is more the only country in the world whose government has the power to collect such evidence at will during an epidemic, according to Prof. Park.

In the initial at ones wits end months of the pandemic, government websites uploaded a detailed sketch of each unswerving’s daily life until they were diagnosed and isolated. The regulation did not reveal patients’ names but sometimes released revealing data such as their accosts and employers.

That rush of data fed a growing culture of online harassment. In South Korea, doxxing — gibe up and publishing malicious personal information — had already been a growing intractable, often cited in the recent suicides of K-pop stars.

Restaurants visited by patients were then treated as if they were cursed. Citing one female patient’s everyday visits to karaoke parlors, online trolls claimed that she be obliged be a prostitute. Gay South Koreans began to fear being outed, prompting the rule to promise them anonymity in testing after an outbreak erupted at a gay join forces in Seoul in May.

Often the harassment proved persistent. The unfounded rumors to Kim Ji-seon and her congregation emerged in February but are still circulating today. Kim Dong-hyun, the congregant whom trolls had falsely accused of have on the agenda c trick a relationship with Ms. Kim, said his girlfriend was recently asked about the “​scurvy immoral man” in his church.

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Credit…Woohae Cho for The New York Times

“It’s amazing how die-hard these rumors can be,” said Kim Dong-hyun​, a​ shipping house​ employee.

“I once could not understand why entertainment industry stars ​smothered themselves after becoming targets of online bullying​,” he supplemented. “I do now.”

As the stories of abuse mounted, the government pulled back on some of its disclosures.

The domination no longer reveals a patient’s age, sex, nationality or workplace. It also doesn’t jamboree the names of places that the patient recently visited if everybody that personally encountered has already been identified. It removes from public view any advice it does disclose after two weeks.

As the virus has resurged in recent months, the controls have cracked down on spreading disinformation or leaking personal materials, and have interrogated 202 people for related criminal activity. Centre of them was a man who claimed on YouTube last month that the health experts were manipulating test results to keep government critics in quarantine, as profoundly as six people who circulated rumors that a patient visited places in southern Seoul that he had not been.

Peacefulness, the authorities are trying to balance privacy with safety. The police from asked prosecutors to indict 13 people accused of providing fabricated information, including several who lied to epidemiological investigators about their trim or the places they visited while potentially carrying the virus.

Openly shame has proved effective. Many South Koreans patients dreaded brand more than the virus itself, according to research by Seoul Federal University’s Graduate School of Public Health. People paid limelight: One survey in May showed six out of 10 people checked patient data on sway websites, with the vast majority of those saying they institute it useful.

Even Kim Dong-hyun and his friends said they understood why the poop had to be gathered and disclosed. But they also spoke of the social burden that infected human being face. The government closed down Kim Dong-hyun’s workplace temporarily after he proofed positive, he said, and his co-workers had to go into quarantine.

The sense of guilt past that, he said, “was harder to bear than the bodily pain caused by Covid-19.”

Both Kim Ji-seon and Kim Dong-hyun are associates of the Onchun Presbyterian Church. Some of its members checked into the beachfront realty in Busan in February expecting to do little more than organize church work. But some people online falsely accused their church of being combined with another, called Shincheonji, which has long been denigrated in South Korea as a cult and once dominated headlines as the center of an first wave of infections.

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Credit…Woohae Cho for The New York Times

Onchun’s chief pastor, the Rev. Noh Jeong-kag, denied any link to Shincheonji but said he was looking into whether fellows of that church infected his congregants while attending services confidential to poach worshipers, something it has been accused of doing.

Onchun’s 32 infected fellows have all survived. For some, fighting Covid-19 has been a deeply faithful experience.

Kim Moon-seok, 68, a retired truck driver, said doctors confirmed his wife, Kim Hang-ja, to prepare for his funeral. But he said that while he was transgression in and out of a coma, he saw a nurse praying at his bedside and later heard God’s voice.

“I destroyed 40 percent of my lung capacity because of Covid-19, but I initiate God,” Mr. Kim said.

​In June, Kim Ji-seon and 20 formerly infected church associates agreed to donate their blood plasma to help treat other patients. “It was to upstage our thanks to those dedicated nurses who treated us,” said Kim Chang-yeon, then Kim Ji-seon’s bride-.

Kim ​Ji-seon and Kim Chang-yeon married that same month. Guests wore masks and gloves ​and kept socially distanced. ​The couple canceled a honeymoon in Thailand and depleted belch up three days in a ​South Korean ​hotel while the virus hit the ceiled outside.

But their wedding had one special event: Kim Dong-hyun, the man whom trolls accused of finance on an affair with the bride, sang​ and danced with Kim Chang-yeon in a bringing off for Kim Ji-seon.

“I wanted to show to those who spread the malicious rumors that our devotion is not what they thought it was,” Kim Dong-hyun said.

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