As consumers of information, our primary concern is no longer the lack of its availability; rather, it is the indiscriminate overconsumption of it. Inaccurate, misleading, or outright false information run more rampant with each passing day. What I find most troubling is that day by day, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish from what is true and what is not.
Today’s propaganda, loosely defined as any means through which the propagator sways the public consciousness into embracing certain policies, ideologies, and cultural norms, evolves to develop more and more subtle and innocuous appearances. “Fake news” has risen as a buzzword after its heavy impact in aiding and hurting both candidates of the 2016 US presidential election. In January this year, the Counselor to the US President Kellyanne Conway popularized the borderline Orwellian term, “alternative facts”, to dismiss accountability for false claims made by the White House.
A survey by Pew Research Center in 2016 has shown that 62% of US adults get their news from social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Social media news feed algorithms give more coverage to stories that appeal to the user’s emotions and confirm to his or her preconceived biases. Such a passive and irresponsible approach to consuming information is bound to leave you prone to manipulation by partisan news sources. The 2017 South Korean presidential election should serve as a disturbing wake-up call. According to the Korean Prosecutor’s Office, compared to the 18th presidential election in 2012, this year’s election has seen a 51.6% increase in charges related to violations of election laws; there have been more frequent documented cases of online publishers that misrepresent content to users and impersonate official news organizations to spread misinformation.
Misinformation, be it propaganda, fake news, or alternative facts, is a liability that can easily exacerbate the chasm of hatred and misunderstanding between the already polarized population on each side of the political and ideological spectrum. For a healthy functioning of democracy, we must identify and break free from our echo chambers that inhibit our ability to make informed decisions.
In this month’s issue of the Herald, our reporters have strived to uphold the need for dialogue in acknowledging and working out differences in opinions and stress the importance of understanding diverse perspectives. On pages 1 and 3, we cover a roundtable conference that sets the tone for transparent dialogue between members of the KAIST community. On page 6, we interview a Zen monk who offers us his insights on the path to tolerance and harmony. In our debate section on page 13, we explore the need for political participation from the KAIST community in order to have our voices heard in determining the future direction of our university.
In the words of Paul Joseph Goebbels, the infamous master of misinformation himself, “propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will”. Nothing is a more alarming harbinger of precarious times to come than a prevalent attitude of staunch stubbornness that one’s own opinion is in the absolute right.
Young Jip Kim