Sex, edgy content sells in 1-person online media
Unregulated content in internet broadcasting grabs viewers, but some stray into criminal territory
Published : Oct 6, 2017 - 15:15
Updated : Oct 8, 2017 - 10:10
“The one with the smallest buttocks has to drink, on a viewer vote.”
Three men and three women dance and show off their behinds in front of the camera as part of an internet broadcast.
The drinking game is followed by the gang hosting variety of risque games and conversations with none of the profanity or sexual content being edited out.
The show by BJ -- broadcasting jockey -- Chulgoo is part of a growing fad for “makjang” entertainment, a Korean slang term for anything deemed to have gone “too far.”
One of Chulgoo's videos. (YouTube)
The term has an added significance when used in the context of scarcely-regulated internet broadcasting. These shows are popular for their raucous entertainment value, but often test the limits of their platform operators’ -- and the public’s -- tolerance with their tendency to go beyond South Korea’s broadcasting norms.
On TV and radio, content such as sexual games, drinking and the use of expletives is subject to regulation by the Korean Communications Standards Commission, which can review content in advance. But this is not possible with live internet platforms.
Authorities can make suggestions to remove certain content, but the ultimate decision on what to put on their websites and how to restrict access to minors is mostly left to the operators of the platforms themselves.
Chulgoo, who has 727 million accumulated views on Korean live broadcasting platform Afreeca TV and over half a million subscribers on YouTube, is no stranger to online controversy -- he received fierce criticism this year for describing the May 18 Democratic Uprising as a riot.
But other users have gone far beyond this into violent, misogynistic threats.
Shin Tae-il is famous for his pranks on unsuspecting pedestrians, especially elementary school children. In one recent video, he drove into a gas station and asked for 10 won ($0.10) worth of gas.
Although the videos seem obnoxious and pointless, there is a clear objective -- getting as many donations and views as possible.
Afreeca TV channels make money from viewer donations, but broadcast jockeys such as Chulgoo make more money by re-uploading their content to YouTube. According to the Multi Channel Network Association, the estimated revenue per YouTube view is 1.2 won.
But his videos have sometimes gone beyond mostly harmless attention-seeking and simple pranks, into situations that require police intervention.
In August, an anonymous female YouTuber God Gun-bae touched a nerve among male viewers with derogatory comments about men. Shin revealed a picture of a woman who he claimed was the female broadcaster -- illegal in itself without her permission or good cause -- and said he would kill her, as well as issuing threats of sexual violence.
Shin Tae-il's video (YouTube)
Fellow YouTuber Kim Yun-tae followed up with a video, showing a picture of what he claimed was her house and said he would murder her.
The video claimed to show Kim seeking her out, though it is unclear if it really was her house that he was targeting. The police intervened in his hunt, and Kim was fined 50,000 won.
The incident served as a reminder of how serious web-related crimes can become.
More commonly, K-pop stars have become subject to sexual comments on YouTube channels, including IU who vowed legal action against a YouTuber for sexual harassment
The videos containing the murder threat and the harassment of IU have both been removed from YouTube -- although copies of both keep reappearing -- but often the offensive content propagates unchecked.
The Chulgoo videos mentioned above are age rated on Afreeca TV, but can be seen by anyone on YouTube still seven months after they were uploaded.
YouTube provides guidelines for its community, warning against nudity, sexual content, graphic or violent content, harmful and dangerous content, hateful content, threats, spam, misleading metadata and scams. Violators can have their videos removed and even have their accounts deleted.
But while nudity is quite strictly regulated, it is rare for YouTube videos to be removed for mere language. While some cases, such as Shin’s, have been removed from the website, the majority of Chulgoo’s channel remains intact, fused with curse words, drinking games and sexual jokes.
Even if an account is blocked, a YouTuber can simply create new accounts. While God Gun-bae’s account was removed in August after she was revealed to have uttered inappropriate comments, she quickly made accounts of similar name to continue broadcasting.
Despite the growing influence of one-person online media, internet broadcasting is not categorized or regulated as TV, radio or other forms of broadcasting. It is regulated by the operators of the platform; meaning Google -- not the government -- is mainly in charge of banning, rating or allowing content on YouTube.
The law does stipulate that Korea Communications Standards Commission can review and regulate content that has already been produced, but this has only been practised in a handful of cases, partly due to staff limitations.
According to Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, only 126 cases have been penalized by the authorities from January of 2015 to June of 2016. During the same period, Afreeca TV gave penalties in 934,014 cases.
And for content on foreign-based services like YouTube, the KCSC does not have the power to forcibly carry out its verdict.
In last year’s parliamentary audit, the government revealed plans to request the National Assembly to revise the law so that internet broadcasting platforms that knowingly allow sexual or violent content and be fined up to 20 million won. But the plan was never put into action.
Rep. Bak Maeng-woo of the Liberty Korea Party in August proposed to revise the law to mandate the registration of internet broadcasters and require them to remove or block content that is decreed by the law.
The revision, however, would face obstacles; in addition to mire of legislative process, there is an ongoing debate about whether it is right for the government to regulate an individual YouTuber’s content.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com)
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