Infodemics

The South Korean government has invented a new name; “Infodemics”, for an old concept: FUD. South Korea has recently been hit with a wave of FUD about mad Cow disease:

“We have to guard against ‘infodemics,’ in which inaccurate, false information is disseminated, prompting social unrest that spreads like an epidemic,” Lee told parliament early in July.

Lee has every reason to take it personally.

Barely had he taken office in February than he was accused of putting the nation’s health at risk by agreeing to import U.S. beef, long banned because of concerns over mad cow disease.

Much of the fear, at times hysteria, was fanned by blogs and discussion boards that crammed into South Korea’s Internet space. It helped trigger mass protests that daily clogged central Seoul in late spring and early summer as tens of thousands took to the streets to demand U.S. beef be kept from South Korean tables.

An early hot topic was a scientific study, heavily distorted in the retelling but widely believed judging by Internet postings, that Koreans had a genetic predisposition to catching the disease.

The government’s response is, predictably enough, to try to censor their corner of the internet:

The Justice Ministry is working on what it calls a Cyber Defamation Law.

“The reality is that we lack the means to effectively deal with harmful Internet messages,” a ministry official said.

The Korean Communications Commission, which regulates the industry, has come up with its own rules to oblige portals to suspend sites stepping outside the limits and force Websites to use real names of anyone posting comments.

The commission says the measures are designed to improve security and reduce the spread of false information.

But censorship is really the least effective approach to fighting FUD. Censoring the critics will just fuel the perception that the government has something to hide.

There are interesting parallels between the Mad Cow scare in South Korea and the vaccination-autism scare in the US. In the US the fear that vaccinations cause autism is still widespread even though the original preservative blamed for the effect, Thermasol, was phased out of use years ago with no effect on the reported rate of autism.

In both cases the solution to fighting the FUD is more information. In the US, parents need to see the effects these terrible diseases have on children where vaccinations are not in widespread use. They need to be shown that not vaccinating their children is the far riskier option.

In South Korea it would help to see images of healthy Koreans living in the US and dining on beef.

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2 responses to “Infodemics

  1. Pingback: LMB’s act of Lexpionage | The Marmot's Hole

  2. Excellent post. I especially agree with your point regarding the anti-vaccine ‘movement’. The real solution is better science education for the public.

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