SEOUL (Reuters) - Being the most wired country in the world has opened the way for a new form of bullying in South Korean schools, with victims being forced to pay for Wifi access for their tormentors.
Bullied students are made to sign up for subscriptions that cost around $40 a month, then to turn on the Wifi hot spot function on their smartphones.
This allows the bullies to essentially take over the phone's wireless connection, permitting them to surf the web for free -- and also drawing down the phone's battery because there are multiple users at one time.
"I am very worried my beloved smartphone may be worn out," one 16-year-old boy old wrote anonymously in a web bulletin in January.
"I really want to cry. I am posting this because seriously, I don't know what I am supposed to do after the semester starts."
Around 20 million South Koreans, 40 percent of the entire population, own smartphones.
While new technology has expanded the range of rewards for bullies, the act itself is an old problem in South Korea's rigid school system, previously showing up in forms common around the world such as physical violence or taunting.
A survey by the Korean Federation of Teachers' Association and the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said that 4.1 percent of schoolchildren said they had been bullied, with some desperate students even taking their own lives.
About half a dozen suicides among middle and high school students linked to bullying since late last year has forced the government to start prosecution of teenage bullying suspects and introduce plainclothes police patrols in some schools.
But the changes in bullying may take some tackling, with traditional responses lacking teeth, education experts said.
"New schemes such as Wifi stealing are blurring the boundaries of school violence," said Park Jong-chul, a high school teacher who is part of a teachers' group that researches bullying.
"Some people say this is not a threat nor violence. (But) we need a new definition for school violence in terms of laws and norms."
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by David Chance and Elaine Lies)