Scare Stories Online Take Toll on People

The spread of groundless rumors and exaggerated facts through Web portals has amplified public angst over controversial issues.

Many of the groundless scare stories successfully make a provocative emotional appeal to Web users, often putting a heavy burden on the new administration. Given the political hue of these stories, some have raised questions over who have instigated such scares in the first place.

When a groundless rumor spread on the Web that the government plans to adopt a meter-rate system on the Web, charging citizens depending on their total amount of data use, the Broadcasting and Communications Commission (BCC) scurried to release an official statement on Monday denying such plans.

The commission said, Recently, an unfounded rumor was put in circulation on the Web, saying that the cost of Internet use will surge under the Internet meter-rate system, one of President Lee Myung-baks pledges, adding it is likely to be implemented soon. However, such a system was not included in Lees pledges nor has it ever been discussed by policymakers since 2004.

An official from the commission pointed out that the whole idea of Internet meter-rate system may greatly affect Web users sentiment while saying, The information may have been deliberately disseminated, taking advantage of the hostility formed against the government on the Web, which began with the recent protest against the resumption of U.S. beef imports.

Another scare story that began spreading on the Web late last month alleged that the government is taking steps to give up the nations sovereignty over the Dokdo islets, which have long been the source of great tension between Seoul and Tokyo.

The rumor has also spread to mobile phone users as a text message, Lee Myung-bak is now in the process of giving up the islands, was sent to an unspecified majority on Sunday.

In response, a government official said, The rumor is completely groundless. We are trying to locate its source.

Regarding the much controversial resumption of U.S. beef imports, a mad cow scare based on exaggerated or distorted facts quickly spread on the Web, which has a weak information filtering system. The gist of the scare story was that President Lee exposed Koreans to the dangers of mad cow disease with the decision.

A scare story regarding the recently burnt-down Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) also emerged on the Web.

The rumor was built on the warning Chung Do-jeon, one of the founding members of the Joseon Dynasty: If Sungnyemun burns down, it would mean that the fortune of the nation has also been exhausted. People must flee from the nation and the nation will come to ruin. Based on this dire prediction, many Web users began fueling rumors that the nation will face a crisis similar to the Korean War or other historic tragedies due to the fire.

Other rumors include those regarding privatization of the water supply business and the national health insurance, along with exaggerated slogans such as 140,000 won for daily use of water and 100,000 won for treating a cold.

Many of these rumors have become popular ingredients for user created contents (UCC), which receive many hits on Web portals, blogs and online communities.

These rumors prevalent on the Web have one thing in common: they emotionally provoke people with groundless, yet plausible, stories.

Some experts have used the term Digital Maoism created by Jaron Lanier, a U.S. computer scientist and writer who initially coined the term virtual reality, to describe the recent trend on the Web. In 2006, Lanier brought up the term Digital Maoism to compare the risk posed by collective anger instigated on the Web to the danger of collective movement inspired by extreme ideologies, Maoism or Nazism.

Hyeon Taek-soo, a sociology professor at Korea University, said, The latest scare story frenzy on the Web can be interpreted in the light of Digital Maoism, which expresses and amplifies public anger against the society or administration by resorting to irrational tools.

DongA.Com [English DongA] | Original News @ HERE
Date : May. 06. 2008


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