Recent South Korean celebrity legal battles have highlighted the social issue known as “cyber wrecker” (사이버 렉카). This term refers to video creators who publicize content of other people’s misfortunes and issues. The Korean word for tow truck, “렉카 rekkeo“, is derived from “wrecker”. These creators quickly cover controversial topics, much like a tow truck that arrives first at the scene of an accident. They often post rumors or negative news in a maliciously edited way.[s] [s] In 2023, the major Korean music associations called for strict punishment of cyber wreckers. One target of such legal action efforts is Sojang, admin of the YouTube channel Taldeok Camp (탈덕수용소). Sojang is a cyber wrecker notorious for indiscriminately spreading baseless information and malicious rumors about various celebrities.[s] [s]

For a long while, tracking down cyber wreckers was difficult since YouTube is owned by the American corporation Google. In 2023, LIWU Law Group successfully obtained Sojang’s personal information on behalf of Starship Entertainment and Jang Wonyoung after receiving the U.S. Court’s approval. Armed with the knowledge of Sojang’s identity, LIWU’s clients proceeded with their criminal and civil lawsuits.[s] Other celebrities soon followed suit, one of them being Kang Daniel.

Below contains a timeline focusing on the dispute between Kang Daniel and cyber wrecker Sojang, surnamed Park. Some reports refer to Park as “A”. Information includes context from other Korean celebrities’ disputes to better understand legal proceedings and Sojang’s actions.

Sojang (pseudonym) is a Korean woman surnamed Park and born in 1988.[s] She was interested in K-pop since its 1st generation and has a long history of being active under other usernames to propagate false rumors and hate speech. For instance, she was known as Gasahara (가사하라) in DC Gallery celebrity boards, Giant Rabbit Love Brigade (대왕토끼사랑단), Daeto (대토), Kuromi, etc.[s]

Her latest venture was launching the YouTube channel Taldeok Camp (탈덕수용소) in 2021 (“탈덕 taldeok” means to unstan). Sojang’s videos became popular and were even picked up by the media. Despite being sued several times for spreading unfounded rumors and false facts about celebrities, she did not stop malicious activities. As Sojang is known to delete comments or block users who counter her claims, her comment sections were essentially echo chambers, which made manipulation of public opinion easier.

Investigations revealed that Sojang operated her YouTube channel on a paid membership system and encouraged donations from subscribers. The membership had several levels with monthly costs: “Trainee” (1,990 won), “Idol” (4,990 won), “Superstar” (12,000 won), “Secret Group Chat Room” (30,000 won), and “Special” (600,000 won). She offered a 20% discount on the first month of membership. As of April 2023, Sojang had 498 paying members: 124 “Trainee” (25%), 5 “Idol” (1%), 352 “Superstar” (71%), and 17 “Secret Group Chat Room” (3%).[s]

The channel had around 60,000 subscribers and 160 million cumulative views until it closed on June 23, 2023.[s]

One of the K-pop idols Sojang relentlessly posted fake news about is Jang Wonyoung, a member of Starship Entertainment’s girl group IVE. Since November 2022, Starship has been carrying out civil and criminal lawsuits and overseas legal proceedings against Sojang through LIWU Law Group (attorney Chong Kyongsuk).[soompi]

Chong shared with The Korea Times why the lawsuits were at a standstill for a while, “A prime issue in this case was the inability to determine the identity of the YouTuber essential to file the lawsuit. The YouTuber’s personal data was stored on Google’s overseas servers, making it harder to access the needed information […] Especially in countries like the U.S., where freedom of expression is broadly protected, companies are reluctant to readily cooperate with other countries’ legal requests.”

Despite the challenges, Chong filed an ex parte application on May 22, 2023 to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to authorize foreign discovery. The court granted their request (Case No. 23-mc-80147-BLF) on May 24.[s] Around when Google notified Sojang of the disclosure request, Sojang deleted her channel on June 23, 2023, while claiming it was hacked. On June 29, an individual claiming to be Sojang took to a popular online community to apologize, revealing her name (Park Jooah) and reflecting on her actions.[s]

In July 2023, the Google U.S. headquarters provided LIWU and Starship meaningful information about the Sojang channel manager, including name, email, address, the fact that one or more channels was monetized, and other information. On July 25, 2023, Starship made an official statement on holding Sojang accountable and their progress.[s] [s] On August 25, 2023, the U.S. Court granted Starship’s motion to issue a new subpoena. Through this request, Starship asked Google for additional documents associated with the email address identified during discovery, seeking any names, addresses, telephone numbers, date of birth, and banking information.[s]

On September 14, 2023, Starship called for harsh legal action against Sojang and similar channels. The agency emphasized that punishing cyber wreckers can raise awareness and curtail malicious clickbait that takes advantage of others.[s]

Note: Kang Daniel had worked with LIWU Law Group before. In April 2020, his company KONNECT Entertainment shared it partnered with LIWU Law Group’s Clean Internet Center to preemptively take legal action against malicious comments and illegal postings.[soompi]

Per the Law Times and Starship Entertainment’s update on January 17, 2024, Jang Wonyoung and Starship not only filed civil suits for damages but also sued Sojang for defamation and insults. The criminal complaint was investigated by the Gangnam Police Station and recently forwarded to the prosecution. Aside from that, there are two civil lawsuits filed against Sojang. Starship’s separate civil lawsuit for damages and obstruction of business is in progress. The civil lawsuit Wonyoung filed was won by default because Sojang did not respond.

Wonyoung filed the lawsuit for damages in October 2023. Her attorney submitted evidence that the content posted was false information or amounted to insults at the level of defamation. Wonyoung’s lawyer stated, “This clearly constitutes an illegal act in civil law and also falls under criminal charges such as defamation and insult.” On December 21, 2023, the Seoul Central District Court’s 210th Civil Division ruled Wonyoung’s partial victory in the 100 million won ($75k USD) damages lawsuit against Sojang. The court ordered that Sojang pay 100 million won and a 12% annual interest rate until the full amount is paid. Sojang would pay for the court costs incurred as well.

In both the civil lawsuit and criminal case, Sojang argued, “I didn’t know the information was false” and the public has “the right to know about celebrities.” According to Wonyoung’s side, not only did she suffer mental anguish from the videos’ rumors, but other celebrities were also victims whose entertainment activities were hindered. The attorney emphasized that Sojang sought to profit, which makes the extent of illegality more significant.[s] [s] [soompi]

Sojang hurriedly appointed a lawyer to appeal on January 17. She then requested to suspend enforcement of judgment on January 23. Wonyoung’s lawyer mentioned in a JTBC interview, “[Sojang] appears to have submitted the appeal after news reports were out, as if she learned of the verdict belatedly and then took action.” Typically, the court’s decision is not finalized if the defendant files an appeal within two weeks after the verdict. However, creditors can still enforce immediate execution, such as seizure, even if the judgment is not finalized. Thus, an enforcement suspension application can temporarily halt this process.[s] [s] [s] [kpopping]

On January 24, the 50th Division of the Seoul Central District Court held the first trial for Starship’s separate damages lawsuit, concluding the session in just 15 minutes. Sojang’s attorney argued that her action was for public interest purposes and claimed not to have known whether the content was false. The next session was scheduled for April 3.[s]

On January 29, the 18th Civil Affairs Department of the Seoul Central District Court approved suspension of execution since Sojang fulfilled the court’s condition of a 100 million won deposit. The two sides thus continued their legal dispute through subsequent appeals. Furthermore, Sojang denied writing a community post apology.[s] [kpopping] Note: The surety of 100 million won would typically be held by the court, acting as a form of security to ensure that Sojang complies with future judgment.

On March 5, the Seoul Central District 9-3 Civil Affairs Division (Appellate) referred the case to mediation. Mediation gives the disputing parties the opportunity to come to a mutual agreement, which would result in the lawsuit’s dismissal. Wonyoung and Starship’s positions did not change, therefore continuing the lawsuits with no settlement.[s]

On April 3, the 50th Division of the Seoul Central District Court held the second hearing for the Starship damages lawsuit. Wonyoung’s lawyer expressed their sense of injustice, “Because the account was deleted, we can only understand the total profits.” The court responded, “It seems necessary to verify whether the video contents are false.” The court set the next trial date for June 19. On top of that, Sojang complained through her attorney from Korea Central Law Firm of the pain caused by invasion of privacy due to her personal details being on NamuWiki. Her page was temporarily made unavailable.[s]

On May 14, Sojang and Wonyoung’s mediation process ended in about 5 minutes without resolution. Wonyoung’s lawyer explained, “We were in the position of wanting punishment rather than money. There was no significant progress because A’s side did not actively come forward with a mediation plan.”[s]

On May 14, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office Criminal Division 1 announced they had indicted YouTuber Sojang without detention on charges of defamation and insult under the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection.

Sojang was indicted on criminal charges after uploading 23 videos defaming 7 people, including celebrities and influencers, on the YouTube channel Taldeok Camp from October 2021 to June 2023. Furthermore, she faces charges for uploading videos insulting the appearances of 5 victims among them for a total of 19 times.

Sojang’s fabricated videos about celebrities received high views. At one point, the channel had as many as 70,000 subscribers. According to the prosecution’s analysis of the YouTube channel, Sojang had earned 250 million won ($183k USD) in profit over the course of two years from June 2021. She purchased real estate with a portion of the YouTube channel proceeds.

On December 12, 2023, the prosecution took over the cases of three victims, including Jang Wonyoung’s, from the police. On April 8, 2024, they received complaints from five more victims. Considering the social harm caused by the cyberbully YouTuber, they merged the cases and conducted supplementary investigation.

The prosecution requested an arrest warrant for Sojang two times: February 29 and April 26. However, the court dismissed it, stating there was no risk of escape. Per the indictment summary, the prosecution requested an arrest warrant considering the channel yielded about 10 million won per month. Sojang also hid and damaged her cell phone and laptop evidence during the search and seizure process on February 15.[s]

During the prosecution’s investigation, Sojang claimed, “The YouTube videos were merely expressions of opinion. The video was produced for the public interest, which is a matter of interest.”

A prosecution official stated, “[Sojang] ran the YouTube channel anonymously and attempted to destroy evidence by deleting it. During a search and seizure of her home, additional videos featuring numerous celebrities were found on the laptop used for video editing.”[s] [kpopping]

Note: The main point in Kang Daniel’s defamation case appears to not be reflected in the Incheon indictment summary. It is assumed his case was not grouped with the other 7 people’s.

The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office Prosecution Service website shared a summary of the charges filed by 8 victims against cyber wrecker Sojang.[s] [s]

The summary defined a “cyber wrecker” as a YouTube channel that gains revenue by quickly uploading cobbled-together content whenever controversial issues arise in cyberspace. Through individual defamation cases filed by victims of one-off insults, the prosecution discovered that the defendant continued to professionally engage in cyber wrecker activities. Prosecution conducted supplementary investigation, including tracking the YouTube channel’s revenue accounts, search and seizure of the defendant’s residence, and forensic analysis on the laptop used for video editing.

As a result, numerous additional victims were identified. The defendant profited 250 million won ($183k USD) from indiscriminately posting false or distorted videos. This case was clearly established as a “profit-driven crime through the dissemination of fake news” and was dealt with severely.

In the future, the prosecution will continue to respond strictly to cyber wrecker crimes that profit from victims of fake news. They will strive to ensure that the defendant receives a punishment corresponding to their crimes.

Charges were filed by 8 victims: 7 people (idols and influencer) and a victim’s company. The below summary included the baseless info Sojang posted, plus the specific violations of the Information and Communications Network Act:

Defendant A – female, 35 years old, YouTuber

  1. Victim B – alleged jealousy resulted in a fellow trainee’s debut cancellation [violation: defamation, insult]
  2. Victim C (agency) – manipulated album sales (aka sajaegi) for the company’s artist [violation: defamation, obstruction of business]
  3. Victim D – involved in prostitution in the Philippines [violation: defamation]
  4. Victim E – underwent a specific type of plastic surgery [violation: defamation, insult]
  5. Victim F – underwent a specific type of liposuction [violation: defamation, insult]
  6. Victim G – took a hiatus from the group due to a relationship, despite having left due to health reasons [violation: defamation, insult]
  7. Victim H – has a fake face [violation: insult]
  8. Victim I – took a stylist’s shoes and did not return them (implying theft) [violation: defamation]

Note: Based on previous reports, SM Entertainment’s artists account for many of these claims. B = Jang Wonyoung and C = Starship Entertainment (summary mentioned B’s agency is C).

On May 24, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office Criminal Division 1 announced the court accepted the prosecutors’ request for the seizure of some of Sojang’s assets.

Pre-conviction seizure prevents a criminal suspect from disposing of certain property, such as by transfer or sale, before their sentence is confirmed. Sojang’s frozen assets total around 200 million won ($146k USD), including real estate and deposit bonds. The prosecution plans to recover Sojang’s profits from the crimes committed, per the court’s decision.[s]

The below timeline is updated from when the dispute between Kang Daniel and cyber wrecker Sojang was publicized.

On May 27 at 11:28 AM, Dispatch dropped footage of Sojang attending trial for defamation against Kang Daniel. This marked the first time Sojang was captured by the media.

According to the legal community, Judge Lee Joongu of the Seoul Central District Court Criminal 18 Division held the first trial for Ms. Park, who was indicted on charges of defamation under the Information and Communication Network Act. Daniel’s prosecution initially filed a summary indictment against Sojang in November 2023. The court later transferred the case to a full trial upon request from Kang Daniel’s side.[s]

According to the prosecutor in charge of the case, Sojang’s 2022 video targeting Kang Daniel was produced for the purpose of slandering him. In response, Sojang’s lawyer admitted the production and posting of the video but denied the intention to defame, stating, “She didn’t mean to slander. Ms. Park thought it was true.” The judge questioned, “Did she not know it was false?” Her defense lawyer responded, “We could not confirm it. The prosecution must prove the falsity. The defendant believed it to be true.”[s] [repost] [kpopping] Note: Sojang’s 2022 video sensationalized and regurgitated a blind rumor that was part of Daniel’s former company’s character assassination attempts from early 2019, which his lawyer at the time briefly touched on to deny association to a party.

Dispatch then uploaded a 3-minute video of Sojang running from court to Gyodae Station. Sojang shielded her face and appeared to be wearing a wig. After the trial was over, she refused to answer reporters’ questions and ran out of the courthouse with reporters in hot pursuit. Sojang’s lawyer blocked reporters from interviewing, saying they would speak at the next trial. He warned they could report the reporters under the Stalking Punishment Act.[s]

The court will hold another trial on July 15 and will interrogate Sojang as a defendant.[s]

On June 19, the 50th Division of the Seoul Central District Court held the third hearing for the damages claim lawsuit filed by Starship Entertainment against Sojang. Only the litigation representatives of both sides were present.

On this day, the court criticized Sojang’s side, “We asked for specific responses to each act listed in A’s illegal activities list in the plaintiff’s written document dated October 27, 2023. However, the contents submitted on April 2 do not appear to be detailed enough.”

The court then asked about the progress of Sojang’s indictment without detention. Sojang’s lawyer replied, “There has been only the indictment. No trial date has been set.” Furthermore, they added, “It is unusual that the prosecution submitted their press release as evidence, considering it is publicizing facts of the case. Initially, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office sought an arrest warrant, but the request was dismissed. Then they tried to merge this case with others for investigation and re-applied for a warrant, but that was also denied.” The lawyer continued, “Ultimately, A was indicted without detention. We don’t know the intention, but it feels like the prosecution is engaging in mediaplay.”

In response to the mediaplay claim, Starship’s lawyer countered, “Starship Entertainment did not submit this separately. It was material distributed by the prosecution, so it can be sufficiently submitted as evidence.”

The court remarked, “Credibility is ultimately the issue here, and how it is judged is key.”

The next session is scheduled for August 14. The first hearing date for the Jang Wonyoung damages appeal trial is September 4.[s]

On July 15 at 11 AM, the 18th Criminal Division of the Seoul Central District Court held the second hearing for Sojang, who was indicted on charges of violating the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection (defamation). However, Sojang did not show up even at 11:10 AM, and her lawyer submitted a statement of reasons for her absence. Per her lawyer, Sojang had surgery to remove a lump in her finger last May, but visited the hospital that day complaining of extreme pain.

The court criticized the defendant for not submitting an excuse in advance, saying, “If she submits a statement of reasons for her absence on the same day, it is embarrassing for the court. The prosecution revised the evidence list after the last hearing and resubmitted it. We were scheduled to play the evidence video and question the defendant today, so what are we going to do if she does not appear?” The court warned, “Please convey to the defendant that if she does not appear at the next hearing, an arrest warrant will be issued. At the next hearing, we will watch the prosecution’s evidence video and proceed with the defendant’s examination. If there are no special circumstances, we will conclude the argument at the next hearing.”

The next trial date for Park is August 12, postponed due to Park’s absence.[s] [s] [s]

Sojang’s hearing on charges of defaming Kang Daniel will take place on August 12, 2024.