Ask not what to do but what not to do.

Distraught since yesterday, reading real-time about the South Korean ferry accident. As it turns out to represent a multi-layered crisis, and more importantly still is ongoing, I don’t think this is the time or place to even bring up what has saddened and angered many people including me – the absence of the notion of health and safety, absence of disaster management, or absence of decency – let alone ethics – in journalism in Korean society, to name a few. Rather, this post is to jot down, as a personal note, something that struck me and got me thinking since.

In a time of disaster, it feels quite natural to think and talk about what each can do to help those affected. I would like to believe that sympathy is in all of us, despite differing degrees of it. However, the ‘Every little helps’ logic is particularly pronounced in this social media era. It says your texts, your retweets, or your ‘likes’ will help people in a war-torn or a natural disaster-struck area. I am not dissing the so-called clicktivism here. I mean more broadly: paying a visit to the said area, holding a vigil to send collective vibes, or composing a series of poems, you name it.

As Jack Bratich aptly put it when the Kony 2012 video was creating much buzz, “the last thing we need to do is induce embarrassment and shame in others for their enthusiasm”. As someone who studies digitally mediated collective actions, I firmly believe in that. What I started to wonder though is why the question is always about what one can do about [Insert any undesirable circumstance here] but never about what one can not do. I am not saying that we need to put our lives on pause while there is a tragedy unfolding around us, not least because that’s impossible, but shouldn’t more attention be paid to ‘considerate inaction‘?


* The above photo, copyrighted to a Korean news agency Newsis, depicts the president visiting the shelter and consoling a six-year-old girl who had just been rescued while her parents are still unaccounted for. There has been a backlash as the girl was supposed to be in hospital, recovering from shock and trauma. Questions have been raised to what extent this photo was staged and how far the president and her entourage may have gone to get this emotionally charged shot. Did they actually drag the girl out of the hospital bed? What I learnt while serving as a temp interpreter for Korean politicians who were passing through London on an official mission a few years ago is that they love taking ‘picture evidence (인증샷)’ of their every move. I hope that wasn’t the case this time. I genuinely do.


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