|Kim Won-sok, formerly of Hanwha Eagles, had to leave his then team over his comments made on social media in 2017. / Korea Times file|
By Ko Dae-ho, Lee Jae-hyun
Social media, one of the optimal tools for communication between people, happens to be an equalizing one as well. It allows celebrities and ordinary people to express and exchange deep thoughts and spur-of-the-moment impulses.
However, social media posts, with no expiration dates, can backfire.
Recently, Disney fired James Gunn as director of "Guardians of the Galaxy 3" after his tweets, which contained sexual content and referred to abuse, from nearly a decade ago were disclosed.
Gunn immediately issued an apology on the day that the tweets were revealed. He took full responsibility and added the tweets were not a true representation of who he really is and regrets writing them to this day, admitting that they were stupid and insensitive.
Notably, in the wake of Gunn's dismissal, the movie's main actors have written a collective letter to Disney and the public mentioning their unified support for the director and their belief that he should be rehired for the project. Fans have additionally created a separate petition which has garnered over 300,000 signatures.
|Josh Hader #71 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch during the eighth inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park on Aug.5, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. AFP-Yonhap|
Adding to the list of stars plagued by regrettable twitter posts is Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader. On July 17, during the MLB all-star game, homophobic and racist tweets that he had written when he was aged 17 and 18 were exposed online. The aftermath of this situation was not as harsh as some had anticipated as Hader released an immediate apology taking full responsibility and admitting that there were no excuses for the things he had said as well as stating that his old tweets were not representative of any of his current beliefs. Hader's primary response to his tweets going viral has been that he was young and immature.
The MLB responded by asking Hader to take sensitivity training and participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives. They also said that they would not be suspending Hader after he issued his apology and would leave it up to him to prove otherwise through his actions from here on out.
The last entry among those who have recently been exposed through twitter is another MLB player, Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb. He, similarly to Hader, had posted various racist and homophobic tweets, which also date back to when he was 18 or 19. Along the lines of all the others exposed through twitter, Newcomb also expressed deep regret and claimed it did not mean anything and was just stupid, thoughtless material written with friends.
"Freedom of speech is a highly-touted constitutional value in the U.S. and it is practiced and promoted more than anywhere else in the world. Although public figures who post racially-offensive and misogynistic messages on social media do get caught and punished, the reigning philosophy in the U.S. is still that you are entitled to your own opinions," said Min Seong-jae, an associate professor at the Department of Communication Studies of Pace University in New York. He found it to be case where other countries have stronger regulations against offensive and hate speech on social media, and thus the consequences are greater.
"I think in Korea's case, offensive social media messages are easily caught, shared, and judged publicly, because of the vigorous social media user base. Furthermore, in a relatively small and tightly-knit sports market such as Korea's, I think many fans have a? strong sense of personal connection to athletes, and when their expectations of the athletes are betrayed, the ensuing punishment can be harsher," Min said.??
The Pace professor acknowledged that social media, which plays a role of both community newspapers and personal diaries, can be confusing to people. "It is a mixed-used space where the personal and the public co-exist. And it is evolving fast. I believe users need to have a good understanding that their problematic postings can become public and may come back to haunt them," he said.
There were similar cases that were highly controversial in Korea. On Nov. 20, 2017, Hanwha Eagles decided to fire pitcher Kim Won-seok. Kim had insulted his team, coach and teammates, and additionally degraded the appearance of the cheerleaders and the fans on Instagram direct message. Also, he disgraced the hometown district of Hanwha Eagles and other regions. Furthermore, he compared President Moon to a communist and called him "Red Jae-In."
Hanwha said, "We have decided to remove Kim from our team due to recent controversial and inappropriate conversations on his social network services.
Although it was a private conversation on a personal social media account, it was decided that it needed strict consequences as the messages were exposed and revealed."
Kim had already been expelled once from the Hanwha Eagles in 2012 due to his poor performance. After completing mandatory military service, he joined Yeoncheon Miracle, an independent club. After an outstanding performance against Hanwha in a friendly practice match, Hanwha called Kim back to the team in 2016. Fans were outraged as they called it "biting the hand that feeds you."
After the incident, Kim tried to continue his career, eventually signing with Yeoncheon Miracle again, April 30, 2018.
"In Korea, if offensive comments appear on social media sites, they are not processed through an official channel. Rather, netizens and the general public have a strong influence on how to process them," said Park Byong-chul, a professor of Busan University of Foreign Studies.
"In Korea, personality is considered also to be part of a person's ability. In other words, a person is out of the game if they do not fit the institutional framework," Park said.