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Fake news and critical consistency

Oct 13,2018
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Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

People see only what they want to see, according to cognitive psychological studies. With limited attention, humans cannot take in all information. We have evolved to detect changes meaningful for survival and safety. Therefore, a lack of attentions for things outside basic interests is natural. The famous “Invisible Gorilla” experiment is a great example.

Memory is also unreliable. In a survey immediately after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, two thirds of the American people said they had voted for him. But in the election three years earlier, Kennedy and Richard Nixon had a neck-and-neck race.

“Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) said. He was recently quoted by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon cited to stress the need to regulate fake news. Lee, a former journalist of the Dong-A Ilbo, has used the quote as his motto throughout his reporting career. But during an investigation, facts never show up as a whole piece, particularly when the issue is political or ideological. Reporters have to be cautious about seeing only what they want to see and must complete the puzzle with much effort. Facts are sacred, but the sanctity never reveals itself. It is always made public through a priest in form of the oracles of God. The oracles are often interpreted as one wishes, and priests are often corrupted by power.

The boundary of fake news is unclear. Poor manipulation of facts is actually not a problem. It is actually funny to see the fake news reports that saw Lee’s signing of a guest book at the Ho Chi Minh house as praise for Kim Jong-un. Not many people will be fooled by it. The real problem is fake news that offers conspiracies. Such news uses pieces of facts to create a frame and fills the gaps with irresponsible speculation. The authors make you want to see what they want to see. They avoid responsibility by disguising assertions as “reasonable speculation” but they do not back down in front of proof to counter them, so they are far from reason and logic.

Let’s look into the speculation about President Moon Jae-in’s health, which prompted the latest controversy on regulating fake news. The argument is absurd, but it was built using pieces of facts. “He read from papers in a diplomatic meeting,” the fake news said. “He misspelled ‘Republic of Korea’ when signing a guest book,” it also said. “He told victims of earthquakes that they had a great experience,” it also said. These are facts, and when added to ideology, hope, speculation, prejudice and malicious intent, fake news was created.
The liberals are no different — and they may be worse. Conspiracies about the Sewol ferry sinking are examples. The argument that a submarine hit the ferry was based on facts such as that a strange object was seen on the radar of the Vessel Traffic Service; a side of the hull was damaged; the stabilizer of the ferry was vented within the normal range. After the ferry was lifted from the sea bottom, their arguments were ruled incorrect, but the structure remained unchanged — poor facts were transformed into a news report.

The problem is that no one from the liberal side was held responsible. No one apologized voluntarily. All the fake news that shook up the previous conservative administrations was not held accountable. It is doubtful if the current government’s plan to regulate fake news will be convincing without punishing liberals who created fake news in the past.

One-person media, through which anyone can create content, can easily merge with political beliefs. A person can produce fake news en masse, but can also expand democracy. Until now, the Moon administration has emphasized the good effects of one-person news, but suddenly it is talking about the negative effects. Why? Before discussing the regulation of fake news, we must ask if it is even possible to distinguish between “contaminated arguments” and “sacred facts,” unless a priest of antiquity who monopolizes God’s messages is what this administration wants.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 12, Page 30