Intellectuals are the frontline soldiers against disinformation

2023.10.20 12:55:01 | 2023.10.20 13:11:17

[Lee Jin-myung]이미지 확대

[Lee Jin-myung]

We live in an era of disinformation in which fake news and false rumors are prevalent. Disinformation feeds on many events, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war recently became a source of disinformation. South Korea has also been hit by disinformation surrounding many social issues, ranging from the ungrounded fears about mad cow disease transmission, the Cheonan Sinking to Japan’s recent discharge of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Fake news, however, is not new at all, despite the widespread belief that the rise of social media platforms caused this crisis. Humanity has long been in a fight against fake news. Historical figures like Ancient Egyptian King Ramesses II, French King Louis XIII, and American polymath Benjamin Franklin have all engaged in the propagation of false rumors.

Wars often trigger a wave of disinformation. There are the losers and winners in war, and that mechanism makes the truth much less attractive. This also explains why politics get contaminated by fake news. The nature of politics and war is the same: The winner takes it all.

Fake news can become more powerful when it relates to people’s biases or doubts because people tend to believe what they want to believe, regardless of how true it is.

On the other hand, disinformation loses its power in a healthy and peaceful community in which intellectuals raise their voices to distinguish the truth from falsehoods.

This was the case for the recent debate over Japan’s release of water from Fukushima plant into the ocean. A wave of fake news swept South Korea on August 24, when Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began its first discharge. Some opposition lawmakers leveraged fake news, and environmental advocacy groups gathered to protest the discharge.

It was global and local experts in nuclear energy that played a pivotal role in stopping the spread of fake news. They debunked the false narratives, striving to ensure that the truth prevailed and as a result, the mood has changed. With Japan now releasing its second batch of contaminated water into the ocean, the turmoil and chaos that was prevalent during the first release are no longer there.

But the landscape found during previous social issues was different. In the mad cow public scare, which heavily hit the country in the early 2000s, scholars and experts remained silent while media giants and politicians spread false news to trigger public speculation. Intellectuals even distorted information to match their political beliefs, as evident in the debate over the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system (THAAD) in Korea.

A healthy intellectual community is essential to build a healthy society. Plato, a foundational figure in the development of Western politics, emphasized the significance of intellectuals. In his view, philosophers were individuals with the capacity to discern truth from falsehood, a concept that resonates with the contemporary understanding of intellectuals.

The political turmoil Plato witnessed during the Peloponnesian War and the Greek oligarchy was a source of rampant disinformation. He even experienced the tragic loss of his teacher, Socrates, due to a fabricated accusation, giving him a profound understanding of the detrimental consequences of fake news. Given this context, Plato’s advocacy for intellectuals as the governing class in his envisioned utopian state seems logical and reasonable.

By Editorial Team

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