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[Opinion] Brainwashed by the Internet

Posted May. 05, 2008 08:15,   


Among the protesters at Saturday’s candlelight vigil against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, 70 to 80 percent were middle and high school students. The majority of the students were also girls. Many of them cried out anti-government slogans in their school uniforms, according to pictures and video taken at the scene. One of the slogans reflected a greatly exaggerated worry over mad cow disease: “For the first time in our lives, we are too worried about Korea’s future to go to bed.” One high school student even said, “What if we die from eating beef infected with mad cow disease? After all, the future of the nation lies in the hands of the youth.” Another held a sign saying, “I want to go to college, get married and have kids. I cannot die now.” Just listening to their slogans and comments makes one think that U.S. beef is toxic.

Many teenage protesters have been motivated by celebrities, who have instigated the mad cow scare. Provocative slogans such as “American cows are crazy cows” or “Spongy brains of U.S. cows” are easily visible on the Web. Some have gone as far to mimic a popular TV quiz show and ask the crowd questions about mad cow disease. At the same time, students have changed the lyrics of familiar songs to further amplify the scare over the disease. An online media reported the comments of a 40-year-old passer-by who felt sorry that young students got dragged into an event inspired by adults with political intentions. “What do high school students know about the whole situation?” the person said. “They seem to have gotten the wrong ideas from the Internet about the issue.”

The students in the protest showed blind faith in groundless provocations on the Web rather than an exploratory spirit thirsty for verified facts. The real culprits, however, are adults who feed groundless information on the Web as the perfect tool for brainwashing emotionally vulnerable students into believing anti-American ideas and amplifying the mad cow scare. The protest is a stark reminder of the side effects of the Internet, which is cluttered with unscientific information and instigative attempts. For example, the nation was shocked to find that the person who began the online campaign for Lee Myung-bak’s impeachment last year was a high school sophomore.

Unfortunately, “progressive” online media are equally devoid of logic and facts when it comes to such provocations. On the participation of young students in the protest, one left-leaning media said in an editorial, “The anti-impeachment campaign of 2004 [involving then President Roh Moo-hyun] was mostly led by those in their 30s and 40s. The active participation of young students in the current protest, however, indicates a bright future for the nation.” For progressive media, young students are the easiest target for spreading their groundless ideals. Their vocal reaction to the anti-U.S. beef protest is in stark contrast to their silence on a Chinese who used violence against a Korean in the heart of Seoul last month.

Editorial Writer Heo Mun-myeong (angelhuh@donga.com)