The author is a reporter at the Innovation Lab.
“It is annoying to criticize the president and the ruling party because I will be branded as a long-standing evil and pro-Japanese and become estranged,” a professor in his 40s said. His comment was strange because he had been vocal on social issues. He said he was afraid of being tormented online after being framed as a traitor. So many young professors ask to remain anonymous in interviews. They say they just don’t want to create controversy.
Their reluctance to criticize the government does not come from their fear of the government. They are afraid of hostility online and having their identities revealed. Kyunghee University’s sociology professor Kim Joong-baeck said that cyber bullying is a major pain for those in their 30s and 40s as social media is an important tool for them. Intellectuals are no exception, he said.
Dankook University’s Prof. Seo Min, a parasitologist who stirred controversy on social media with columns like “Moon’s Supporters are Crazy” and “Yes, I am Pro-Japanese,” said, “There are many replies attacking my appearance and character. I am mentally strong, but professors with weak mentality can hardly stand even trivial criticism.”
It is especially so for the professors born in the 1970s and went to college in the 1990s. Compared to those in their 50s, who were involved in the democratization movement in the 1980s, they are not accustomed to struggles. Unlike the strong-minded generation in their 50s, they are gentle and refrain from creating controversy by speaking directly. People with this tendency self-censor their postings because they don’t want hassles on social media.
Politicians abuse this tendency, especially those who are popular on social media. They divide allies from enemies with controversial arguments and define “different ideas” as “wrong facts.” Their supporters attack the other side as “evil.” The most notable remarks came from the former presidential secretary for civil affairs Cho Kook, who said that those who deny the Supreme Court decision on wartime forced labor are Japanese collaborators.
Who benefits from this polarization? It is politicians who claim to be on the side of justice. They charm the public by pretending to be good and paralyze rational thinking with self-righteous claims. In his book “The Name of the Rose,” Umberto Eco wrote, “fear those prepared to die for the truth for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.”