Internet and narcissism
Two most-searched events sensationalized cyberspace this week. The first episode related to a pregnant woman and a waitress in a 30-second hair-pulling “catfight” at a restaurant in central Cheonan last week.
The 33-year-old woman, surnamed a Yoo, posted online that a restaurant waitress kicked her in the abdomen, and claimed that she was afraid of the safety of her five-month-old fetus. She claimed the waitress beat her despite her revealing her pregnancy.
This triggered an immediate criticism from SNS followers. However, a surveillance camera confirmed that it was the 45-year-old waitress, a Hong, who was kicked in the belly in the tit-for-tat. The pregnant woman apologized, saying that she posted a false message out of anger at the waitress. The SNS users then vilified the woman for lying.
Another episode raged on the online world Tuesday. A mother put a woman on the wanted list for fleeing after a ‘terror attack’ on her nine-year-old son at a restaurant inside a bookstore in Seoul. She alleged that the woman poured hot soup on the face of her child and ran away. The boy was hospitalized and police started an investigation. Angry online commentators briefly searched for the ``terrorist’’ before she voluntarily presented herself to the police. She was also a victim.
CCTV footage showed that the woman, 52, suffered minor burns over her hands after the boy ran into her as she was carrying a hot soup bowl to her dining table in the restaurant. In the hit, the hot soup spilled over the boy’s face. The incident was not a “terror attack”, but an accidental collision between the boy running and the woman.
The two episodes have common features. Clashes occurred between “Digital Natives” (young people proficient in Internet use) and “Digital Immigrants” (older people blind to Internet). Both took place at restaurants. The posters wrote only what they wanted to say, publicly humiliating the Internet-uncomfortable women. The attackers were younger than the defenders.
The victim-blaming games ended after CCTV verification, but the episodes show symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder in society.
The pregnant woman had unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment and automatic compliance from the restaurant worker. On the surface, Koreans appear to respect the elderly more than any other people in the world. In reality, it is the opposite. The young woman irritated the senior woman just because she considered herself special.
She put the waitress in an awkward and difficult position as she perceived a failure to comply as an attack on the customer’s self-ego. She believed that the elderly waitress should be in a subservient position. The pregnant woman dealt a narcissistic injury and fanned narcissistic rage in cyberspace. The mother of the burned boy also exploited the woman with burned hands before checking the truth and the latter’s feelings or interest.
Cyber bullying and abusive words crucified the two Internet-blind women. An overworked policeman says the police must focus on serious crimes, not petty online complaints including quarrels.
Witch-hunting, public smearing, mass hysteria, mass lynching and punishment of perceived wrongdoers are rampant in cyberspace. “Defendants” are persecuted on mere accusations in kangaroo courts. Unfiltered postings produce innocent casualties. Digital Darwinism, namely the survival of only the loudest and most opinionated, has become the norm.
Patience is necessary before SNS users post comments online; at least they should withhold comment until CCTV verification is complete.
These incidents highlight the important role of traditional media as a conduit for filtering out self-focused, opinionated comments.
Many SNS users say and believe only what they want to say and to believe. They are often subjective and choosy in their opinions and judgment. This so-called selective perception often divides society.
They often blindly follow what celebrities say. They try to synchronize what VIPs say with their own opinions. Aggravating the pregnant-woman story was a popular singer’s comment that he also experienced inhospitable treatment at the Chaesundang franchise. This infuriated SNS followers and they attacked the restaurant.
People are often prone to sympathize with even wrong information they like, and reject accurate information they disfavor.
Like birds of a feather flocking together, SNS users shared a biased opinion and smeared the waitress until the real story came out. Many Koreans are used to the culture of cliquish exclusionism, namely advocating a group of like-minded persons and rejecting what they perceive as outsiders. This my-friend-is-their-enemy-mentality still lingers in the psyche of Koreans, and often leads to collective misunderstanding.
Even the pregnant woman said that she had never imagined the widespread repercussions her thoughtless posting created. A star becomes a villain tomorrow. A few idolized stars have committed suicide out of frustration over malicious cyber postings. The shabu shabu chain might have faced a boycott campaign nationwide
SNS is a convenient tool for sharing information and its benefits outweigh losses. However, it often becomes a deadly weapon for character assassination. It fans herd behavior. In cyberspace, people get hypersensitive to any insult or imagined one; they lack empathy and try to exploit other people without considering the cost of doing so. They fail to view the world from the perspective of other people, and see themselves as perfect, trying to shame others by using distortions. All of these are traits narcissists pathologically exhibit. This is not unique to Korea. Many countries, including South Africa, have encountered such a malaise.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.