[Herald Interview] The professor campaigning for human rights in cyberspace
10-year anniversary of ‘Sunfull Movement’ on cyberbullying issue draws attention overseas
A man put a question to a group of anonymous people. He asked, “Should I
die?” One person replied, “Yes, you should.” Another said, “Why don’t you give
me your iPhone before you kill yourself?”
These comments posted to an online chat site in an Asian country. The man claimed that he had broken up with his girlfriend.
“(After a variety of comments were posted), the man was found to have really killed himself,” Min Byoung-chul, professor at the College of International Studies at Kyung Hee University, said during a recent interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul.
Min is the person who has been trying to spread a positive internet culture at home and abroad over the past decade, though he is still better known as a renowned English educator among most local citizens.
While there are a lot of entities that advocate for human rights across
the world, there is no particular tool to protect human rights in cyberspace --
a tool that Min says is urgently needed.
His initiative and organization, the “Sunfull Movement,” was introduced in 2007 to promote civility in cyberspace via the posting of positive comments as a way to counterbalance negative comments and verbal abuse.
Many countries have focused on criminal punishment on cyberbullying as a simple follow-up countermeasure. Min’s campaign is more proactive -- he is suggesting that netizens post as many warm-hearted comments as possible.
The Sunfull Movement is a non-government organization that fights against bullying and hate speech online, and the hurtful and potentially deadly impact of malicious comments. Sunfull is a combination of the Korean word “sun” and is derived from the Chinese character, meaning “good,” and “pull” (similar to “full”) and translates to “reply” in English. This matches with the English for “positive comment.”
“Our cyber-peace campaign, which is to be the first
of its kind in the world, started out in Korea and is spreading to other
countries including China and Japan,” Min said.
The spread is attributable to the condolences and encouraging comments for victims of terror attacks or natural disasters in other countries.
Under active promotion of Min and his staff, comments containing condolences and encouragement were posted to the Sunfull website by many Koreans and some foreigners were delivered to bereaved families. Comment-adding was easily accessible on the website (www.sunfull.or.kr).
“To resolve communication matters, our staff and volunteers provided participants with a selection of prepared English sentences (that participants could choose from) or translation services,” Min said.
Among the cases were the hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Maria, in the US and Puerto Rico in 2017, the earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan in 2016, the IS terror attacks in Paris in 2015, the earthquake in Ya’an, China in 2014 and the Sandy hook Elementary school shooting in the US in 2012. More than 10,000 condolences and encouraging comments were collected for each incident, with selected comments delivered to the embassy or regional government.
The Sunfull Movement recently launched the Social Media Human Rights Committee. The committee, composed of a group of doctors and lawyers, is to offer free online counseling for those who suffered from malicious comments.
For a committee operation, the Sunfull Movement is scheduled to sign an MOU with the Korean Psychiatrist Association in November to offer free online psychological counselling for bullying victims.
“In addition to Korean victims, I would like to support the human rights of foreigners residing here,” said the professor.
Two months ago, US Congress member Edward Royce sent a certificate of recognition to the Sunfull Movement, recognizing the Sunfull Movement’s valiant efforts in addressing the important issue of cyberbullying in the United States.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Professor Min.
Korea Herald: What did you feel operating the Sunfull Movement?
Min Byoung-chul: Moving on to the next phase is important in life. Looking back on my life, what I have done for society is the Sunfull Movement. Verbal abuse inflicts pain on people and sometimes even takes lives. The movement is a process of realizing the seriousness of the issue.
KH: How can the victims of verbal abuse receive help from the movement?
Min: There are victims who are unable to receive proper help due to the financial burden or the lack of knowledge. We can be of help to them, legally or psychologically. For the victims who need legal advice, we offer a chance to consult with volunteer lawyers for free. Also, the Sunfull Movement is to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Psychiatrist Association on Nov. 1, to provide free online psychological counselling for the victims.
KH: How does the system of positive comments work?
Min: Whoever sees malicious comments on the internet can leave positive comments that can offset the negative ones. For some issues, the campaign collects the positive comments and delivers them to the scene. We actually delivered collections of condolences and encouraging comments to the victims of the earthquakes in Kumamoto Japan, Sichuan China and shooting tragedy in Connecticut, in the US.
KH: Tell us about the damage that malicious comments are causing.
Min: People think they are alone. All they need is support and encouragement. When someone is at a psycological ‘low’ (lonely, depressed, stressed, sad, feelings of hopelessness, etc.), negative online comments can be the last straw that pushes someone to make a terrible decision. On the other hand, a positive word during these low times can provide hope and a more positive perspective. That’s why we need the campaign, to let people know the consequences of malicious comments.
KH: Can positive comments be the solution?
Min: The Sunfull Movement believes that good words have immense power. They can dispel misunderstandings between people and countries. We once planned to do a campaign in the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, to share supportive words and encouragement between South Korean employers and North Korean employees, but unfortunately we weren’t able to launch the campaign. We believe that good and positive words can settle disputes, even between countries. We hope to conduct campaigns in troubled parts of the world.
KH: What are your plans for the future?
Min: We would like to invite the Nobel Peace Prize recipients, to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. We also would like to work with cyberbullying prevention centers in other countries to counter cyberbullying and hate speech.
KH: Tell us about your lectures in the university.
Min: I teach students how to start their own businesses based on their passion. The name of the course is “Business Creativity” In this course, each student selects a field based on their passion and come up with a creative business idea related to that field. Creating a new idea has always been the core component in the advancement of mankind throughout the history. New ideas are the secret weapon in the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the 4th industrial revolution as well.
KH: How can we study English more effectively?
Min: The ultimate goal of learning English is to communicate. To enhance communicative competence, you need to practice. For nine years, Jack Ma (the founder of Alibaba) got up early every morning and rode his bike to the Hangzhou Hotel, where he befriended foreign tourists and worked for free as a tour guide in order to practice English. This is the secret to learn English.
KH: Why is it important to learn English?
Min: Learning English can change your life. More than 50 percent of the content produced on the internet is in English. English will allow you access to a vast amount of information and English is the major business language in the world and if you want to enter a global workforce you need to speak English. For example, if a store owner wishes to meet new customers and expand the business, the owner needs to learn English. These days, opportunities of learning English are everywhere. In other words, to connect the present with the future, one needs to learn English.