Full of beans

A few age-related articles have flowed into my news feeds lately, including a New Yorker article “Why ageism never gets old“, criticisms against the (promotion of) the “Young Forty” discourse in Korea, and some essays on pedophilia culture such as this and this. They have come from different sources and different time points, so it feels like a coincidence, but is it? Or is this one of those moments where the gods of blogging are nudging me to write something? 

All that have sprung to my mind subsequently are feel-good news stories that seemingly defy the natural and social laws of ageing.

  • RT @AJEnglish By day, this 87-year-old Japanese woman makes dumplings. By night, she’s spinning records in Tokyo’s red-light district. Meet DJ Dumpling (12 April 2017)

Then it has struck me that these stories form a specific genre of its own. It is always Japanese obaasan. Always.


If you own the network,

Watched Kingsman the bank holiday weekend. A few minutes in I immediately realised why I didn’t when it came out three years ago – the same reason that I don’t see any Tarantino films – but I continued on this time.

This post is a side note as I felt that the film added evidence to my long-held theory. I am not sure if you have noticed, but every network owner depicted in Hollywood cinema is evil. You will see a good lawyer every now and then, like Matt Damon, and you will see a few good politicians too. When it comes to network owners, however, every single one is evil. I have watched enough telly in my life, so I can tell you that much.

Process of elimination

I find it harder and harder to stay engaged with elections, of which there is an abundance at the moment. Not only because of the bouts of the ‘gah, what’s the point of all this‘ feeling, but rather because there really isn’t anyone that I can bring myself to support.

I then came across on Facebook this video clip of Yanis Varoufakis on today’s French presidential election. The response in the comment box seems to be divisive, but I took some solace in it personally.

Vote for Macron, with the same energy and enthusiasm with which we are going to oppose him the day after he becomes President of France.

Greater than the sum of one’s many selves

Being an Asian woman living far away from her native land, I might have gained some experiential awareness of the ‘intersectionality‘ of identities, but to be frank it is only recently that I have started studying and reflecting seriously on the concept.

Once something registers in your mind, you realise you are in fact surrounded by it. There have been a few particularly memorable moments, personally.

# When the South Korean presidential candidate with the highest rating Moon (fashionably) declared himself a feminist but refused to support an LGBT-related bill, an activist in the audience cried out: “I’m a woman and I’m homosexual. […] Can you split my human rights into halves?

# danah boyd’s latest article ‘Failing to See, Fueling Hatred‘, which contains the line: “I grew up with identity politics, striving to make sense of intersectional politics and confused about what it meant to face oppression as a woman and privilege as a white person.

# Stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo‘s joke: “As a woman I wanted to break that glass ceiling, you know. But as a Mexican I want to clean that shit too.

# And then the very today. Conversations on Twitter around a sweet viral video took a surreal turn as the Asian woman in the clip was automatically assumed to be a “nanny“, “oppressed”, or “emotionally abused”. Blimey.

“Suis-je bovvered?” [2]

❤ ❤ ❤

I don’t have much conviction about anything, but this—I believe this. On the internet those who bother are the last ones standing.

In any case, I am becoming more and more convinced that in the digital era, in which information is a product of collective definition, interpretation and construction, what matters most is activeness. In other words, the real digital divide will not lie along with age, gender or socioeconomic status, but will emerge between those who actually bother taking time out of their busy day to write/rewrite/overwrite on the Net and those who lurk.

Says who? Yours truly, 10 years ago. And it goes both ways.

Marching on

An exhaustive list of the allegations women have made against Donald Trump (The Cut, 27 October 2016)

Didn’t watch the inauguration. Made actual efforts to stay away from all media outlets. I simply couldn’t stomach it.

I was comparatively okay on the day following the election. Perhaps because I had always felt quite distant—if not indifferent—from American affairs. Perhaps Brexit had prepared me for it. Throughout that week I was in the basement of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, cut off from the news and attending some intensive course, so that helped too.

Some people point out that he was legitimately elected (aside the vote-rigging scandal, that is). Others maintain that he does have a number of fierce supporters and that is telling us something bigger. The more cynical say all politicians are the same anyway and he is no worse than the rest. I have heard all and this post is not to dispute any.

As far as I am concerned, I just can’t get off my mind those women who came forward. I can’t pretend to understand what courage it must have taken and how they must be feeling now. To me it felt as if the world didn’t even bat an eyelash. At this rate Bill Cosby may walk scot-free too.

The only thing keeping me from total despair is reading about Women’s March (in Washington as well as here and around the world) and the ACLU’s plans.

The walking wombs

Is your country also suffering from a low birth rate? The South Korean Ministry of the Interior knows what you need – a pink-shaded, interactive map by the number of “women of childbearing age” (which the Ministry operationally defines as 20 to 44 years old).


If you would like a little more detailed account in English, here is one in International Business Times. Since 2016 has already been exhaustingly depressing, I will spare you with what kind of vulgar comments this map has encouraged at the bottom of the Web.

The minefield that is being a woman

There is no winning for us. The internet keeps reminding me – in many brilliant ways.

The fear of being fooled [2]

Finding Bana – Proving the existence of a 7-year-old girl in Eastern Aleppo (Nick Waters & Timmi Allen, Bellingcat, 14 December 2016)

Reading this article reminds me that I left one important strand entirely out from my latest post below. It is the fear of being fooled by the fraudulent narratives of victimhood. Some high-profile cases, such as the blogger of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and a Muslim college student who reported that she had been attacked by a Trump supporter on the subway, have indeed turned out to be ‘catfishers’. Observers have also voiced a concern over the seeming rise of “victimhood politics“.

Consequently, victims are increasingly pressurised to prove that the suffering is genuine. I personally find this most unstomachable. How many rape survivors, for example, are subjected to secondary victimisation in the name of countering “false rape accusations” – or even the imagined threat of “flower snakes” in Korean public discourse? And the most vulnerable in conflict zones, including 16-year-old Farah Baker in Gaza and now 7-year-old Bana in Aleppo, are to ‘reassure’ people with Twitter’s prestigious blue ticks when they are telling the outside world how bad things are around them.

Fake news and the fear of being fooled

It feels like everyone is talking about ‘fake news’! Other related buzzwords include post-truth, post-fact, misinformation, disinformation, filter bubbles, and echo chambers. Despite the temptation, I must accept that I can’t research everything that fascinates me. At the same time, with the term popping up wherever I look, I can’t help but wonder about it. Why the fuss, and why now?

My tentative conclusion is that it is a new face to an age-old fear – the fear of being fooled. And the internet makes a perfect environment that brings out that fear and even heightens it. This post is an unofficial and totally personal recollection of the history of various discussions and debates pertaining to that topic. Once again for my own record.

I would probably start it with the famous, “Nobody knows you’re a dog” cartoon in The New Yorker in 1993. The 1990s were also when that idea of connecting with somebody without knowing who they really are were numerously played on in popular culture but overall in two opposite directions: it can be a seed for either the ultimate love (e.g. The Contact, 1997; You’ve Got Mail, 1998) or mortal danger (e.g. The Net, 1995).

In the first decade of the 2000s, I ran again into the pursuit of ‘authenticity’ in the faceless online world while I was writing my PhD thesis. Through the American jargon “Astroturf campaigns“, to be precise. Come to think of it, it is quite a judgmentally loaded term, reminding me of Andrew Potter’s book The Authenticity Hoax (2010). (I liked the Korean front cover more, by the way.)

Information literacy and digital literacy were gaining more and more importance in the meantime. In 2007, funded by the Asia-Europe Foundation, Han at Yeungnam University and I conducted a small-scale study comparing online information search behaviours between South Korean and British university students. Exploratory in nature, the study provided us with very interesting pointers. British students tended to rely principally on the provenance of information sources (e.g. BBC), whereas Korean students were found to place a significant weight on peer users’ inputs (e.g. Naver’s real-time ranking of popular search terms). I bet the landscape is quite different now though.

Along the way I have also come across the CRAAP Test, the PROMPT mnemonic, an abundance of advice on how to stay critical in the era of social media (e.g. Pierre Lévy’s presentation on the topic in 2013), the “nutrition labels for the news” project at MIT, and various attempts to sort real photos from doctored ones in crisis reporting (e.g. one by The Atlantic during Hurricane Sandy in 2012; an ESRC-funded project led by Ella McPherson on “digital human rights reporting by civilian witnesses and the verification problem”). Considering all these efforts, it was quite discouraging to read that according to a 2016 study from Stanford University most middle school students couldn’t tell ads labelled “sponsored content” from real news stories on a website. Have things gotten worse?

I don’t think ‘fake news sites‘ were considered to be much of a concern until this year’s US election. There were not that many to begin with, but I also recall most of the earlier ones, like The Onion and DDanzi, were perceived as socially conscious satires. Merlyna Lim has made an interesting point lately that dirty campaigns goes all the way back to year 1800 where two founding fathers of the US, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, competed for the presidency. The New York Times has also made a similar point that the newness of fake news has been exaggerated. However, it’s just that this time fake news farms created a powerful synergy with an army of pro-Trump chatbots, eventually overwhelming the election.

Not with fancy bots but with cheap human labour, manipulating online content during an election has a longer history in other parts of the world. At a Freedom on the Net regional meeting earlier this year, going around the table we compiled a list of such examples, ranging from China’s “50-cent party” to Malaysia’s “cyber troopers”. (And I have learnt some more such as Ukraine’s “i-army” and Turkey’s “AK trolls” since.) The 2012 presidential election of South Korea was one definite case. The extent of manipulation has been evidenced by news reports and court hearings, but incidentally it has also been captured in a paper I co-authored on the popular political podcast Nakkomsu, its explicit endorsement of the liberal opposition, and the systematic counterattacks from members and supporters of the conservative party it faced on Twitter in 2012.

It looks like the ‘fake news’ discourse has expanded further. Now it’s about knowing about types of misleading information, how it spreads, what the bigger problems surrounding the phenomenon are (e.g. bias, propagandadesensitisation to lies, and series lack of critical digital literacies), what responsible citizens should and should not do (e.g. fact-checking and taking the time to correct misinformation) to counter those problems.