[The Fountain] Distancing yourself from social media

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[The Fountain] Distancing yourself from social media

The author is the international news team reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Filipino journalist and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa warned that democracy will die in 2024. In a visit to Korea in September, the critic of the Rodrigo Duterte regime’s anti-humanitarian violence and media oppression said, “Not much time is left to protect democracy.”

Her prediction that democracy will fall within two years has a condition: “if the social media environment does not change.” She paid attention to the reality that misinformation spread six times faster than facts on social media such as Facebook. False information amplifies anger and hatred, making people emotional and ignore facts.

The Novel Peace Prize winner especially underscored the danger of “collusion of political power and social media.” Populist politicians avoid traditional media and lead a troop of friendly commenters based on their fandoms. Politicians use the blind supporters, who “only want to believe what they want to” rather than facts, as a weapon in the war of public opinions.

Ressa was worried that if social media works as it does now, democracy would end. She claims that when more people want to believe distorted information to suit the taste of the powerful, a dictator will be elected in a democratic election, and fascism will arrive by a majority vote. On the election of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in the Philippine presidential election in May, Ressa claimed that the president raised his support rating by keeping a distance from the established media and waging a war on public opinion on social media.

Timothy Snyder, author of “The Road to Unfreedom,” criticized that the bigger and more obvious lies a powerholder tells, the more aggressively the supporters acknowledge the lies to prove their loyalty, and as a result, they become more enthusiastic to defend the leader.

We can easily find examples of “sweet lies” neutralizing “uncomfortable facts.” This year, I have seen many cases of politicians attacking an opponent with false information and not repenting even after the truth is revealed, and the stronger the lies — and brazenness — are, the more solidly supporters united. If Ressa’s argument is true, we should be concerned about a possible death of democracy in Korea today.

Snyder said that authoritarianism begins when you don’t notice the difference between what’s true and what’s attractive. In the new year, how about shaking off the temptation to believe “what you want to believe”? One good way to get rid of such an impulse is by distancing yourself from social media.
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