No human society is free from villains. Yet seeing all the rumors, misinformation, aggravations and scams that flourish around the Sewol ferry disaster, one cannot help but wonder how airheaded, pitiless and barbaric human beings can become.
Since the Sewol sank more than a week ago, the Internet and social media, as well as television channels and newspapers, have been flooded with news and postings about the tragic accident. The entire nation has been riveted to it.
Outrageously, there are people who try to exploit the national crisis, creating and spreading rumors, posting malicious comments, antagonizing victims’ families and engaging in scams. These add to the already unbearable suffering of the families of those who died and went missing in the accident.
The first group of wrongdoers made up and spread messages meant to look like they were sent by survivors trapped in the sunken ferry. “There are six people in the cabin near the cafeteria,” one said. “My phone is not working. I can’t see anything. Please get me out quickly.”
Messages like this turned out to be hoaxes, but only after they had gone viral on social media.
Similar rumors continued to be posted on the Web and social media while hundreds of divers risked their lives to fight strong tidal currents and murky seawater. One of the posts said that the rescuers found a large number of bodies inside the ship but were not pulling them out due to bad public sentiment.
The most brazen comments came out of the mouth of a 26-year-old woman. In an interview on cable television, she said the maritime police had blocked civilian divers from joining the rescue operations. She also claimed that a diver saw and communicated with a passenger trapped inside the sunken ship.
All these claims were barefaced lies. Now in police custody, the woman said she was just passing along what she heard from other people. Contrary to her claims, she does not have a scuba diver’s license. From this, one can figure out what kind of person she is.
The cable network that broadcast the interview, MBN, has offered apologies, but the damage and pain had been done already. There have been more, but less serious, cases of sensationalism, excessive competition and encroachment of privacy among media outlets.
Korea’s usually emotive domestic politics and ideological rivalry have also exerted their ugly muscles in fanning rumors and worthless controversies. The most ridiculous ones are claims that the Sewol hit a U.S. navy submarine and that North Korea was involved in the tragedy. We beg both leftists and rightists with lofty ideals: Please behave yourselves this time.
Then comes the most disgusting group ― fraudsters and scammers who try to take money from the already devastated family members and their sympathizers. It is unbelievable that a man disguising himself as a civilian diver approached the families, asking for 100 million won in return for pulling their children from the ship. He must be a beast with a human face.
Smishing scams have thrived as well, as imposters sent fake messages claiming to contain video or pictures of rescue operations to lure people to websites used by fraudsters to steal information.
All these rumors, misinformation and scams not only exacerbate the pain of the grieving families but add to the confusion and mistrust in society. It is scary to imagine what would happen if the nation was plunged into a crisis on a much bigger scale. As President Park said, authorities must trace the roots of all the lies and rumors and hold them accountable without fail.