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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"North Korean Official Reportedly Executed With a Flamethrower," or: Please Read This Post

The quoted part of this post's title is the title of this story at the Washington Post. Here is an excerpt of the story that I found particularly interesting:

If true, the killing shows the chilling lengths to which Kim is willing to go to expunge any trace of his executed uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once a powerful player in North Korean politics. Now, months after Jang’s execution and his temporary erasure from state media, Jang’s older sister and her husband — North Korea’s ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong Jin — have also reportedly been executed. 
But if the story’s false, it would be at least the third time in as many months that an apocryphal tale involving North Korea has caught fire in today’s media, which rewards outlandish stories — regardless of their veracity — with clicks, shares and likes.
It makes sense for journalists to include disclaimers with stories about events within North Korea, given a glut of recent, false stories about the country, including the rumor that North Korea's leader/dictator Kim Jong Un had his uncle fed to dogs, and the story that all North Korean men have to have the same haircut as Kim Jong Un.

But here, the Washington Post is attempting to have its cake and eat it too. In one paragraph, the Post is aghast at the horrible punishment practices in North Korea, and in the very next paragraph, the Post notes that the story could very well be false and even criticizes papers for seeking clicks, shares, and likes at the expense of fact-checking.

The Post is right to point out that many articles and posts on the internet are given provocative titles so that users will be more likely to click on the link to the post. These titles often veer into the realm of the misleading. But the Post's criticism of this practice is disingenuous when its article containing this criticism bears the title, "North Korean Official Reportedly Executed With a Flamethrower."

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