SOUTH KOREA - A recent string of heinous juvenile crimes has sparked public concern over increasingly violent teenagers who spend most of their time in the seemingly lawless cyberspace.
Experts say the unrestrained and uncultured life in online communities that allows anonymity is one of the critical factors motivating young students to commit brutal criminal acts without remorse.
"As young children play games in which they should stab and kill characters to get higher points, they become unable to distinguish between reality and cyberspace," said Sung Yun-sook, research fellow at the National Youth Policy Institute.
Last Monday, a group of teenagers killed a 20-year-old college student by stabbing him dozens of times after an argument over his girlfriend's membership in an Internet cafe that claims to mingle with spirits.
The case was the latest in a series of shocking teenage crimes including kidnappings and rapes.
Another group of nine teenagers beat a high school girl to death and buried her in a park in Gyeonggi Province last month after she spoke ill of them. Last December, a middle-school student in Daegu took her own life after being tortured and beaten by her friends.
The wide use of the Internet and smartphones has increased teenagers' exposure to harmful materials, which can have a formative impact on the way they think and behave, experts noted. Korea's Internet penetration rate hovers at around 90 per cent.
"While Internet-related technology develops quickly, culture in cyberspace appears to be lagging behind. As they are anonymous and do not confront anybody face to face in cyberspace, young students are 'disinhibited' oftentimes," Sung of the NYPI said.
"They often lose self-control as no one is watching what they are doing, while in real life, they are careful about others' eyes."
Concerns over violent acts by teenagers are echoed by their peers.