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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 2)

All News 07:04 November 02, 2022

No more hateful comments
It's not time to spread fake news about tragedy

Some online commenters have invited public rage by posting hateful messages and spreading disinformation about the Halloween crowd disaster in Itaewon which killed at least 156 people, including 26 foreign nationals. They cannot avoid criticism for dishonoring the victims and aggravating the pain and sorrow of the bereaved families.

Now is not the time for fueling hate and circulating groundless allegations. It is a time for mourning and joining efforts to recover in the aftermath of the tragedy. In this regard, we urge netizens, social media users and YouTubers to refrain from irresponsible and reckless behavior. They are, of course, entitled to freedom of expression. But they need to exercise their rights in a responsible way at least as far as the deadly incident is concerned.

That's why Prime Minister Han Duck-soo called on the people to refrain from posting hate comments or sharing footage and disinformation on the mishap that took place Saturday night during Halloween festivities in central Seoul's Itaewon. Police have threatened to take stern action against those posting malicious comments and arousing hatred in cyberspace.

People should try not to repeat the case of the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking which killed 304 people, mostly high school students. The shipwreck caused chaos not least because civic activists and politicians with opposing views disseminated rumors and floated conspiracy theories regarding the cause of the accident.

As seen in the Sewol calamity, any type of malicious comments and fake news tends to inflict secondary damage on victims' families. The Itaewon catastrophe is, regrettably, no exception. Soon after the crowd surge, some people began to spread fake news on social media, making groundless claims that the disaster was caused by poison gas leaks, a fire or drugs. Others put the blame on the victims for triggering their own death.

One of the rumors circulated was that the appearance of famous entertainers at the scene drew a large crowd, creating the mayhem. Some comments were apparently intended to prompt xenophobia and hatred for women or men who allegedly shouted "Push them" before the surging crowd turned deadly. Provocative photos and videos of the accident and dead bodies were also circulated online, drawing backlash from the bereaved families and the public as well. Even some YouTubers were trying to reap profits by posting such material.

No less serious were some opposition politicians' attempts to take advantage of the disaster to step up their political offensive against the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. For instance, Nam Young-hee, deputy head of a think tank of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), claimed on Facebook that the tragedy was a manmade disaster caused by President Yoon's relocation of the presidential office to Seoul's central district of Yongsan. She implied that the police force could not dispatch enough officers to ensure public safety during the Halloween festivities because they had to focus more on the security of Yoon's office.

Her argument was not proven, and her Facebook post was deleted 30 minutes later. The DPK said that her claim had nothing to do with the party's official stance. However, the controversy has shown no signs of calming down. Politicians should not seek to use such a tragedy for political gains. We should not tolerate any hate speech or fake news, which are a grave threat to democracy.

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