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Police: Malicious Rumors Drove Actress to Suicide

Posted October. 03, 2008 03:03,   


Choi Jin-shil was a top star. Koreans loved her so much, they called her “national actress.” Yet she was another victim driven to suicide by malicious rumors spreading on the Internet.

Koreans are again urging tougher measures to root out groundless online rumors and cyber attacks after it was confirmed that the 40-year-old actress, who was found dead yesterday morning in an apparent suicide, was the target of vicious rumors.

Police and her relatives say online rumors and degrading comments likely caused her to take her own life.

Choi hanged herself in the bathroom of her home in southern Seoul. Police ruled her death a suicide after failing to find circumstantial evidence of a possible murder or signs of physical assault on her body.

She had taken tranquilizers due to mild depression after her divorce in 2004. She had reportedly suffered from extreme stress due to rumors that she was responsible for the Sept. 8 suicide of actor Ahn Jae-hwan

Rumors spread by Internet messengers and e-mail said Choi drove Ahn to suicide by threatening to kill him unless he repaid a large loan from her.

“If your name is Jin-sil (meaning “truth” in Korean), my name is Geo-jit (lies),” one netizen who believed the rumor was true posted on an online message board.

Based on her family’s statement that Choi returned home drunk late at night and plead innocence to her relatives before going to bed, police tentatively concluded that vicious rumors and online comments were the prime cause of her suicide.

Hundreds of thousands of grieving fans visited her personal Web site to express their condolences and dismay. “People who posted wicked comments apparently killed her,” one Web user said.

“We must punish those who spread the rumors,” another visitor said.

Others, however, left hostile messages, such as “Congratulations (on your death)!” and “Don’t be a loan shark in heaven.”

The growing controversy over the actress’ death forced major Internet portals to block posting messages about Choi.

“Damage inflicted by online violence such as malicious messages are much more serious than offline crimes since it’s difficult to draw up countermeasures against disguised offenders. The victims also end up suspecting people around him or her as the offenders,” said Gwak Geum-ju, a psychology professor at Seoul National University.

kimkihy@donga.com neo@donga.com