Surge in online threats as anxiety grips more Koreans

By Park Ung Posted : June 7, 2024, 10:42 Updated : June 11, 2024, 10:15
A suspect who threatened to kill people at the Seoul Station walked out after a substantive review of arrest warrants on May 26 Yonhap
A suspect, who is accused of posting a death threat online, leaves the Seoul Northern District Court in Dobong in the capital on May 26, 2024. Yonhap
SEOUL, June 7 (AJU PRESS) - "I'll kill 50 people at Seoul Station on May 24. I don't care whether they would be men or women." This eerily threat was the latest in a series of disturbing posts uploaded online, causing fear and anxiety among Koreans.

Korea, a country long known for its relative public safety, has seen an alarming rise in online threats that spill into actual violent crimes.

Similar distressing posts frequently surface on online forums like Dcinside, often compared to the U.S.' popular social media platform Reddit. Dcinside with some 60,000 galleries, originally an online community for digital camera enthusiasts in the late 1990s, has transformed into a breeding ground for brutal crimes as some users and potential perpetrators post threatening messages.

It also becomes an online battleground for heated debates on controversial issues. According to Google Analytics, it sees around 3 million visitors a day, becoming one of the most popular websites in Korea.
Choi Won jong a suspect who committed a random attack at the Seohyeon Station is on his way to a substantive review of arrest warrants on August 5 Yonhap
This file photo taken on Aug. 5, 2023 shows a man in his 20s, the perpetrator of a stabbing rampage in southern Seoul. Yonhap
Last year, many Koreans were gripped by fear as Dcinside was flooded with a wave of threats of murder plots. The platform's anonymity feature may embolden some users to post dreadful threats and hoaxes.

One post read, "I'm going to stab people at Hanti Station at 22:00 tomorrow." Another post read, "I'm going to kill 20 at Jamsil Station. Who can stop me?" These messages, posted on Aug. 3, 2023, suggested murders at a place where crammers are clustered and a bustling district of Gangnam in southern Seoul. These threats emerged just two weeks after a horrific stabbing rampage in Sillim-dong, southern Seoul.

A man in his 20s who had been active on Dcinside rammed his car onto a sidewalk near Seohyun subway station in Gyeonggi Province the same day. He then ran into a department store where he began stabbing people at random, killing two and injuring about a dozen.

The knife-wielding man could have been influenced by the Shillm-dong incident a few weeks earlier and the raft of death threats posted online. Before committing his stabbing spree, the assailant who had schizoid personality disorder, boasted about a knife on Dcinside and posted a message the previous day, saying "I'm on my way to have dessert to Seohyeon Station."

Scores of similar threats have reemerged in recent months, raising concerns about copycat crimes. While most of them usually turn out to be mere hoaxes, the random and unpredictable nature of these threats makes them difficult to prevent, causing widespread anxiety and panic throughout the country.

Social media can be a double-edged sword in the spread of violent acts, raising awareness but also potentially inspiring copycats. "As people are repeatedly exposed to these threatening messages online, they could become desensitized to violence, even leading some to imitate the behavior," Lim Myung-ho, a psychology professor at Dankook University told Aju Press early this week.

He also pointed out the influence of Dcinside's culture which often glorifies "distorted heroism" and provokes individuals to seek attention through extreme and provocative actions. "If you are searching for people's attention, Dcinside is the place where people's wrong desire is often to be recognized," he added.

Other experts attribute this phenomenon to the underlying social anxiety and growing frustration among Koreans amid a prolonged economic downturn. Many feel hopeless as they struggle with financial constraints and diminishing prospects of achieving personal goals, often leading to depression and other mental illness.

According to a 2022 report by the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), over 10,000 Koreans suffered from intermittent explosive disorder (IED), a chronic anger management problem. Those with IED have difficulty controlling their anger. Another report by the NHIS the same year showed that the number of patients diagnosed with depression exceeded a million for the first time that year.

"The rise of harmful and violent messages posted online could indicate a mounting dissatisfaction with society among some Koreans," said Lee Yung-hyeok, a professor at Konkuk University. "And those who get frustrated with a pessimistic view on their life seem to be venting their fury online and taking it out through assaults in real life."

According to a comprehensive survey of 8,000 people last year, more than half or 56.7 percent were dissatisfied with the distribution of wealth and felt social disparity, while a mere 9.2 percent believed social mobility was achievable through hard work.
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