To catch a lie

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To catch a lie

Groundless rumors are again spreading around Korea in the wake of the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Mobile phone text messages and Twitter messages warned that radioactive material from the nuclear facility in Japan would reach South Korea soon.

One such message read: “The No. 2 nuclear reactor at the Fukushima power plant has exploded, and the direction of the wind has also changed toward Korea. Stay indoors as long as possible.”

The police hastily took action to avert a panic, while seeking to identify who created the false message. Fortunately, the rumor subsided quickly, probably thanks to truthful reporting by mainstream journalists rather than the government’s rush to catch the original cyberliar.

Korean society has been particularly vulnerable to wild rumors whenever a major event occurs. This affects how people interpret major events, as we saw with North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan warship and its bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island last year. Our citizens, however, seem to be uniquely susceptible to baseless rumors. It may have something to do with the cutting-edge technology Korea has: unrivaled Internet access and speed, as well as the profusion of social network services.

It’s not merely a virtue but also the public’s responsibility to sort out truth from the deluge of information that marks our age. People must work harder to distinguish fact from fiction, to tell the difference between a gem and a pebble.

When it comes to a rumor about radioactivity reaching Korea, it’s hard to be fooled if you have a minimum of basic information. Both Korea and Japan are located in the northern hemisphere, where the wind almost always blows from west to east, not vice versa. As a result, pollution can hardly move from Japan to Korea, as witnessed by the yellow dust from China that blows eastward to Korea every year. The simple trick of it all: click on a reliable news organization.

Canards tend to take on lives of their own when information is blocked or unreliable. Misinformation spreads like a virus only when the government has a monopoly on information. The virus of false rumors cannot thrive in places where even inconvenient truths are quickly delivered to the public.

In that vein, communication and truth are the most effective vaccines and cures for deception. If the government confronts lies with transparency, the lies will have nowhere to go and their evil influence will be vanquished with ease.
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