Conspiracy theories, fake news not needed

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Conspiracy theories, fake news not needed

Fake news and conspiracy theories seem more powerful than truth. The tragedy in Itaewon before Halloween is no exception. Creating fake news is much easier — and its narrative sounds more plausible — than telling the truth through rigorous fact-checking.

In the initial stages of the disaster, fake news on its cause — such as gas leaks or a fire or drugs — spread fast on social media. Graphic photos and videos accompanying those posts were quite convincing at first glance. The scenes of scores of bodies lying on the street and terrible witness accounts forced people to accept them as truth.

After the cause of the accident — a deadly crowd crush — was found, the ethnicity- or gender-based hatred followed, first pointing to foreigners of a certain nationality and then to a group of men or women who allegedly shouted “Push them!” before the massive crush. After the appearance of a Youtube influencer on the spot was blamed for the fatal crush, he had to pay a high price.

Fake news soon gave way to numerous posts on who is responsible for the calamity. A number of netizens spread the wrong fact that police in the past deployed as many as 800 officers to the festivities in Itaewon to ensure safe passage. Such wrong information went viral on social media and internet communities.

Conspiracy theories and fake news rapidly spread due to cognitive bias of humans. People tend to deny what is different from their thoughts and accept what is similar to them. In today’s world where social media offers subscribers tailored information based on algorithms, people can easily fall into the trap of confirmation bias.

Some Youtubers exploited such human instincts for profits. Provocative photos and videos they uploaded disgraced the integrity of victims. The stunning accusation by the head of a think tank under the Democratic Party that the disaster resulted from President Yoon Suk-yeol’s relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan fueled controversy further.

Fake news fuel chaos. This tragedy must not follow in the footstep of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, which was exploited by politicians and civic groups again and again. Citizens must filter fake news with rationality, and the government must find the truth behind the tragedy in Itaewon and come up with effective measures to prevent such disasters.

Under such volatile circumstances, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min made improper remarks. He said the tragedy could not be prevented by additional deployment of police in advance. That comment only backfired. The passive attitudes of the Yongsan District office and the police are also being criticized, as they disrespect the president’s emphasis on “boundless responsibility of civil servants for public safety.”
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