Every idol faces hate comments, from criticism of talents to cruel and inappropriate jokes. But when does a malicious comment from an anti-fan become a criminal act? Two veteran K-Pop lawyers explained which comments can get haters sued in a new YouTube interview.

Ko Seung Woo and Jeong Chong Myeong are two of the most experienced lawyers in the industry, working on cases for Wanna One members, Kim Soo Hyun, Seo Ye Ji, and more. This week, the pair sat down with AYO to explain everything fans have always wanted to know about the legal side of K-Pop—including what constitutes a crime when it comes to hate comments.

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Jeong Chong Myeong explained that when companies take legal action against a malicious comment, the cases are usually defamation of character lawsuits. In simple terms, defamation is when someone publishes a false statement as fact, and that statement causes harm to the victim’s reputation, finances, or emotional health.

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Malicious comments are crimes too

— Jeong Chong Myeong

Of course, working out exactly which hate comments constitute defamation isn’t always easy. One AYO commenter asked whether it would be a crime to say “I don’t want to see controversial idols on TV“.

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To make things clearer, Jeong gave viewers an example of defamation of character: if, for example, someone was to claim that “idol A and B dated and A got pregnant“, this would be considered publishing a statement as fact. If the original poster knew the statement wasn’t true, they’d be committing an act of defamation.

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It’s about facts.

— Jeong Chong Myeong

On the other hand, Jeong said, expressing an opinion—such as “this new album sucks” or “I don’t want to see controversial idols“—is not a crime.

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These are not what happened, but just an expression of your own opinion, so defamation can’t be established.

— Jeong Chong Myeong

But what if the comment or rumor wasn’t intended to cause harm? Typically, the idol or their company will need to prove that the commenter either knew what they were saying was a lie, or that they showed a complete disregard either way. If a fan shared a rumor that they genuinely believed to be true on good authority, it would be hard to establish a criminal case.

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That said, there’s often a gray area that makes it difficult to prove or disprove malicious intent. According to Ko Seung Woo, one point that can skew the case in an idol’s favor is the inclusion of swear words in the post.

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While every lawyer and judge will have their own opinion on whether a comment constitutes “contempt” or “slander“, a curse word makes it clear that the original poster intended to be malicious.

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That’s a clear standard, so on the plaintiff’s end, it’s the best!

— Jeong Chong Myeong