Man arrested for spreading ferry rumors online

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Man arrested for spreading ferry rumors online

The National Police Agency’s cybersecurity team arrested a 50-year-old man surnamed Shin Wednesday for disseminating false rumors about the sinking of the Sewol ferry.

The police said Shin posted a comment on a bulletin board of the portal site Daum on April 19 saying that the Sewol sank after it collided with a U.S. Navy submarine. To back up his claim, Shin attached a navigation map of the joint Korea-U.S. Navy exercise in the Yellow Sea near Jindo, South Jeolla, where the ferry capsized on April 16.

Shin’s post soon went viral online, fueling unproven theories that the government was trying to cover up the fact that a military exercise caused the disaster. The rumor even reached the gymnasium in Jindo, where family members of the Sewol victims were camped out waiting for word of the fate of their loved ones.

But Shin’s claim was completely false. It was confirmed that there was a maritime firing exercise, but it was on April 15, the day before the Sewol disaster. Shin told the police during questioning that he faked the maritime navigation map he posted on Daum.

“I had suspicions about the joint naval exercise without any proof. I made the post when I was drunk,” Shin told the police during questioning, according to the police.

Unproven, malicious rumors like Shin’s have drawn much attention on the Internet, and a few people are using them for their own personal or political gain. Some liberal groups have tried to connect the disaster to the incompetence of the Park Geun-hye administration, apparently in order to mar its approval ratings.

A case in point is the liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, which posted provocative, anti-government notices on its website and attributed the accident’s high death toll to the government.

In one video posted on the union’s website, it says the Park government’s ineptitude resulted in the murder of the young students. It also compared the April 16 sinking to the April 19 revolution in 1960, a student-led pro-democracy protest that brought down the Syngman Rhee government.

Conservatives are also trying to use the accident for political gain.

Representative Kwon Eun-hee of the ruling Saenuri Party bowed her head on April 22 before reporters at the National Assembly and apologized for remarks she made on her Facebook page that demeaned the Sewol victims’ family members. “I offer my deepest apology to families who have anxiously been awaiting word in Jindo,” she said.

The lawmaker wrote a post on her Facebook page on April 20 saying that people who are not related to the victims were trying to politicize the Sewol ferry tragedy by arousing the emotions of distraught family members.

“There were people who acted as if they were related to the victims and blamed the government [for its slow rescue efforts],” Kwon wrote. “They tried to stir a scene by slapping government workers and swearing.”

Kwon also claimed a woman who blamed the government in TV footage at the Jindo gym was also in a photo taken at a rally in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, protesting the government plan to set up high-voltage towers there. The photo from the protest turned out to be a fake, and the woman Kwon criticized is the mother of a Danwon High School student.

“It is natural for people to be upset with the government for its part in causing the sinking,” said Park Chang-ho, a professor of information sociology at Soongsil University. “But what we need to do is to think about the fundamental problems of our society instead of waging an anti-government protest.”

BY LEE SEUNG-HO [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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