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False Web Rumors Spreading on Police Brutality

Posted June. 05, 2008 06:35,   


The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency yesterday arrested a reporter identified only as Choi on charges of spreading false rumors on the Internet.

The 47-year-old reporter at a daily in Gyeonggi Province was alleged to have posted unsubstantiated information along with a photo on the Web that a female college student was strangled by riot police in a candlelight protest.

Police said Choi wrote that “riot police arrested and strangled a woman in her 20s, causing her to lose consciousness. She was sent elsewhere in a van and her whereabouts are unknown.” The article was titled “A Scene I Witnessed in Gwanghwamun (in downtown Seoul)” on the free discussion Web site Agora Monday.

His post has rapidly spread throughout the Internet and evolved into a murder mystery of a college girl.

Choi confessed that he mistook a riot guard for a female student, but declined to elaborate further, police said.

Following this false rumor, another scare story appeared in which a person who took part in the protest went missing.

Another post on Agora under the title “Disappearance of a University Co-ed in Gwangju” read, “While I was watching [the investigative TV magazine] PD Notebook, my sister casually said, ‘My friend’s older sister disappeared after going to Seoul to participate in the candlelight protests.’ I was horrified to hear the news.”

Netizens copied and posted the story on other Web sites, and the story was reposted dozens of times on Agora yesterday.

Police said in response, “Amid growing criticism of the alleged violent crackdown on protesters by police, if a female student really disappeared in the protest, her family and civic organizations would not have sat idly by. But we have received no requests for an investigation or report on missing cases.”

Despite no evidence, quite a few netizens say they believe these stories are true. One said, “The report of death has apparently failed to draw attention, but the body of (student activist) Lee Han-yeol was discovered a month after his death.” Lee was hit with a tear gas canister by police in a 1987 demonstration and died soon after.

Another netizen said, “Something fishy is going on. It’s like the government is conspiring to cover up the incident.”

Experts blame the loss of public trust in the government and police for the rise of such false stories on the Web.

“An adverse effect occurs when official and trustworthy communication channels disappear,” said Kim Jeong-un, a cultural psychology professor at Myongji University in Seoul. “Accumulating distrust of the presidential office and police has led people to rely on Internet information, which looks real and vivid.”

Park Ki-soo, a professor of cultural content at Hanyang University in Seoul, said. “When the government and law enforcement authorities are largely discredited by the people, provocative but ungrounded rumors draw attention and spiral out of control.”

Meanwhile, three riot police officers whose names and photos were leaked on the Internet filed a complaint with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency against those who spread false rumors.