Harmful rumors, fake news

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Harmful rumors, fake news

The author is the Beijing bureau chief at the JoongAng Ilbo.


Fan Bingbing seems to be the most talked-about Chinese figure in Korea lately. The top actress was presumed missing for 100 days, and the story was covered on television and other media every day in Korea. Aside from the “fact” that she was isolated for investigation on tax evasion allegation, the public seemed more interested in rumors of abduction, confinement or death associated with affairs with someone powerful. People are more tempted by provocative stories and vaguely assume that it could happen in a place as large as China. On reporting the release of the investigation results, the title of a news article in Korea was “Fan Bingbing Is Alive.” When most Chinese people did not believe the rumors were reliable, the rumors were reported as if they were facts.

Mao Zedong’s grandson Mao Xinyu also died and came back to life in Korean news. A rumor that Mao Xinyu was one of the 32 victims of a traffic accident during a trip to North Korea and Chinese authorities were hiding this quickly spread through Korean media. If it was true, both Mao Zedong’s son Anqing, who died during the Korean War, and grandson Xinyu would have died in North Korea. I contacted Mao Xinyu’s college friends and confirmed that the rumor was not true. My report on the “facts” was buried in the wave of fake news that reported the tragic fate of the Mao family in the portal sites’ news algorithm.

On Jack Ma’s retirement from Alibaba Group’s chairmanship, rumors that Ma was forced to step down due to a discord with the Xi Jinping government spread. But this neglected the fact that Ma had shared responsibility with his successor for years to prepare for succession and had a cooperative relationship with the government. Alibaba’s stock price on the New York Stock Exchange was not affected by Ma’s announcement, suggesting that investors around the world were not affected by rumors of Communist Party influence.

There are many rumors stemming from Chinese news. It is because China does not have freedom of the press and has an unfair procedure for imprisonment. Yet it is not just China’s fault that rumors and conspiracies blow out of proportion and are reproduced in Korea. It could be that Korean society offers an environment suitable for conspiracy as it is accustomed to suspecting everything to be connected with political power. So, fake news from China, created maliciously or for fun, is active in Korea but should not be condoned. It is a serious issue as we may fail to see China’s true face while being distracted by fake news. It is exactly why I am struggling on the front line to convey news from China.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 26
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