A recent string of heinous juvenile crimes has sparked public concern over increasingly violent teenagers who spend most of their time in the seemingly lawless cyberspace.
Experts say the unrestrained and uncultured life in online communities that allows anonymity is one of the critical factors motivating young students to commit brutal criminal acts without remorse.
As young children play games in which they should stab and kill characters to get higher points, they become unable to distinguish between reality and cyberspace,” said Sung Yun-sook, research fellow at the National Youth Policy Institute.
Last Monday, a group of teenagers killed a 20-year-old college student by stabbing him dozens of times after an argument over his girlfriend’s membership in an Internet cafe that claims to mingle with spirits.
The case was the latest in a series of shocking teenage crimes including kidnappings and rapes.
Another group of nine teenagers beat a high school girl to death and buried her in a park in Gyeonggi Province last month after she spoke ill of them. Last December, a middle-school student in Daegu took her own life after being tortured and beaten by her friends.
he wide use of the Internet and smartphones has increased teenagers’ exposure to harmful materials, which can have a formative impact on the way they think and behave, experts noted. Korea’s Internet penetration rate hovers at around 90 per cent.
“While Internet-related technology develops quickly, culture in cyberspace appears to be lagging behind. As they are anonymous and do not confront anybody face to face in cyberspace, young students are ‘disinhibited’ oftentimes,” Sung of the NYPI said.
“They often lose self-control as no one is watching what they are doing, while in real life, they are careful about others’ eyes.”
Concerns over violent acts by teenagers are echoed by their peers.
“Many of my friends do what they see on Internet games. One threw stones at friends as if they were grenades in an online game, either for fun or to tease them. Some got seriously hurt,” said Joo Bo-mi, a senior high school student.
Recent data from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family showed some negative effects of the Internet.
One out of every 10 teenagers is addicted to the Internet, according to the survey. Nearly 50 per cent of middle and high school students play games rated unsuitable for them while more than 40 per cent engage in games that involve gambling.
Some scholars, however, disagree with the idea that the immature culture in cyberspace makes young people more violent and confused about what is unacceptable in real life.
“The violent crimes committed by some of the so-called ‘digital natives’ are isolated issues. Most of them can tell what is right and wrong in real life” said Park Han-woo, communications professor at Yeungnam University.
It is anachronistic to make a distinction between cyberspace and real life given that online activities have already become core parts of our life, he added, stressing the importance of ethics education for young students.
“Whether we like it or not, we should accept the changing environment for the new media including social networking services,” Park said. “Thus, it is not right to view the Internet as a tool for crimes or students as slaves of smartphones.”
Experts say that there needs to be a comprehensive approach to address problems in cyberspace involving young students.
Along with legal restrictions on violence and other vulgar activities in cyberspace, there should be efforts to sensitise young students about what their online activities could result in and how they hurt others’ feelings, according to experts.
Song Sang-ho and Kim Young-won
The Korea Herald Publication Date : 11-05-2012