Fact-checking or Fact-making? – by “JeeYoung K”

“The news is a form of collective thinking.” I am quoting Hong Eun-taek, the editor-in-chief of the biggest citizen-journalism site, Oh My News. I agree that there are many benefits to collective thinking. Every reader can be a writer, covering all sorts of stories that conventional media would not and could not cover. Every reader is a copy editor, checking facts and spelling errors. However, sometime I wonder if collective thinking can lead us to erroneous thinking.

Tablo (taken from http://www.soompi.com/news/the_end_of_the_tablo_controversy/page/3)

Tablo formed a band called Epikhigh and came out with their first album in 2003 in Korea. Even from debut, Tablo received much attention, not only because his music became very popular, but also because he had a BA and a MA from Stanford. Why would a musician’s academic credentials matter? I don’t know, but I guess it matters in a country where almost every year we hear the tragic news of high school seniors committing suicide over college admissions. However, his Stanford degree soon became the bane of his life.

Sometime this summer a few netizens raised doubts about Tablo’s academic credentials. Led by an internet café called Ta-jin-yo, meaning “We demand the Truth from Tablo”, the doubts spread like a wild-fire on the net. The story made the front page news on national newspapers and Tablo had to post his transcript and other legal documents to prove that he did graduate from Stanford. His friends from Stanford created a facebook page and posted their pictures from college. MBC, one of the three biggest TV stations in the nation even ran a two-part documentary with interviews with Stanford administrators and professors supporting Tablo’s claim. However, the Ta-jin-yo only grew in membership and according to Wikipedia members increase to as many as 190,000 in a few days. The controversy only stopped on October 9th, when the police confirmed the authenticity of Tablo’s documents and filed an arrest warrant of “whatbecomes,” the manager of Ta-jin-yo. The whole nation was watching this story unfold. (Yes, even the president has been quoted expressing his sympathies to Tablo.)

Tablo’s transcript. The name on the transcript is his legal name. (taken from http://my.opera.com/add830330/blog/mysterious-and-weird-korean-alleged-genius-tablo)

I might be stretching the word a little bit if I were to call the members of Ta-jin-yo citizen journalists. But, the story does illustrate that the line between fact-checking and fact-making are thin. In theory, the wisdom of the crowd should create a self-correcting mechanism but sometimes it simply perpetuates self-fulfilling lies.

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