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 were the posts on an online bulletin board 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,” said Min Byoung-chul, professor at the College of International Studies at Kyung Hee University at his office in Seoul, South Korea.

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 citizens in South Korea.

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 organisation, 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.

Major countries have focused on legislation for criminal punishment on cyberbullying as a simple follow-up countermeasure. Min’s campaign is somewhat pre-emptive or proactive – he is suggesting that netizens post as many warm-hearted comments as possible.

The Sunfull Movement, derived from Korean and Chinese words, matches with the English meaning for “nice” or “good-natured” and could also be interpreted as “full of sunshine”. It is a nonprofit entity, which fights against bullying and sexual harassment online, and the hurtful and potentially deadly impact of malicious comments.

“Our cyber-peace campaign, which is considered to be the first of its kind in the world, is spreading to countries such as the Philippines, Cambodia, France and Australia,” said Min.

The spread is attributable to the encouraging, positive comments for victims of terror attacks or natural disasters in foreign countries.

Under active promotion of Min and his staff, comments containing condolences and encouragement by many Koreans and some foreigners were delivered to bereaved families abroad. Comment-adding was easily accessible on the website (www.sunfull.or.kr).

“To resolve communication matters, our staff and volunteers provided participants with various types of ready-made English sentences (in which participants can choose) or translation services,” Min said.

Among the cases were the earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan in 2016 and the IS terror attacks in Paris in 2015.

About 14,000 and 11,000 positive comments were posted, respectively, which were delivered to the affected families via embassies or local regional governments.

Others included comments for survivors and families of those who lost loved ones in the earthquakes in China and Nepal, forest fires in Australia and gunshot tragedies in North America.

Min was pinning hopes on the idea that the past activities could have the effect of preventing a second victim by placating families and residents there.

His office recently launched the Social Media Human Rights Committee, which also marked the first case globally. The committee, composed of a group of doctors and lawyers, is to offer free counseling for those who suffered from malicious comments.

For a committee operation, his office is scheduled to sign a pact with the Korean Psychiatrist Association in November to offer psychological therapy for bullying victims.

“Aside from Korean victims, I seek to pay close attention to the human rights of foreigners residing here,” said the professor.

Some officials in developed countries have started to acknowledge the Sunfull Movement as an anti-suicide campaign.

Two months ago, US Congress member Edward Royce sent a certificate of recognition to Min’s office and pledged to support and address the Sunfull Movement in the United States. More recently, Australian officials have expressed their willingness toward having some profound talks with Min’s office. The Philippine Women’s Club in Korea, via an email, said it would like to partner with Min’s office.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Min.

What did you feel operating the Sunfull Movement?

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 realising the seriousness of the issue.

How can victims of verbal abuse receive help from the movement?

There are victims who are unable to receive proper help due to 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, to provide psychological therapy for the victims.

How does the system of positive comments work?

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 delivered collections of positive comments to the victims of the Kumamoto earthquake, the Paris terror attacks and more. The victims were touched by the fact that teenagers in Korea offered words of consolidation and encouragement to them.

Min has been trying to spread a positive Internet culture at home and abroad over the past decade, though he is still better known as an English educator in South Korea.

A scene from 2014 horror flick ‘Unfriended’ in which teens who cyber-bullied their friend paid the ultimate price. In real life, bullying and sexual harassment exist online, and malicious comments could lead to potentially deadly impact. Photo: Handout

Tell us about the damage that malicious comments are causing.

People think they are alone. All they need is support and encouragement. A person in China posted on his social media, “Should I die?” And the person really committed suicide. What the person needed was just, “No, you should not. Your life is precious.” It could have changed the outcome. That’s why we need the campaign, to let people know the consequences of malicious comments.

Can positive comments be the solution?

The Sunfull Movement believes that good words have immense power. They can dispel misunderstandings between people and countries. We believe that good words can settle disputes, even between countries. We hope to conduct campaigns in troubled parts of the world.

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to invite the Nobel Peace Prize winners, to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. Their encouragement speeches will be recorded on a video clip. We are also seeking coordination with a suicide prevention centre in Melbourne, Australia, to work on combating cyberbullying. – The Korea Herald/Asia News Network