Tablo's Birther Problem

You don’t normally expect great reporting from an alumni magazine. But the most recent issue of the Stanford Magazine has an article titled The Persecution of Daniel Lee that’s quite interesting.

Daniel Lee graduated from Stanford University in 2002 with a Masters degree in English, and went on to become a famous rapper and author in Korea under the name “Tablo.” However, Korea has recently been rocked by a series of false diploma scandals, and many people began to doubt that Lee had really achieved a Masters in the record time that he claimed. It became a wide spread conspiracy theory.

Both Stanford University and Daniel Lee tried to quash the rumors, but they only spread farther. Lee’s attackers accused him of forgery, and they accused Stanford staff of being in collusion. Lee has been the subject of repeated verbal attacks and threats, and his family and friends have been dragged into the argument. It continued to spiral until it became a national issue.

According to the story, Lee was able to end the spiral by going to Stanford and getting his transcript in front of a camera crew. Wikipedia tells a different story, “However, despite the documentary, and Stanford’s administration clearly siding with Tablo, membership at [the main conspiracist website] Tajinyo increased to as many as 190,000 within a few days, as numerous netizens refused to believe Tablo or the documentary.”

Americans who are familiar with the birther conspiracy theory will see the resemblances. But it strikes me that this is a pure form of the same type of conspiracy theory, undiluted with politics. The results are the same: attempts to ignore the problem allowed the rumors to spread, but attempts to deal with the accusations just fanned the flames.

But then, how exactly do you deal with these kinds of conspiracy theories?

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  • Custador

    I think Obama’s initial reaction was the best of a bad bunch of options: Ignore it. Don’t give it enough credence that conspiracy theorists think you’re actually taking them seriously. If they’re laughable and absurd, then the amount of effort you put in to responding top them needs to reflect that. Tablo should have pointed, laughed, called his initial accuser a f***ing cretin and then walked away, still chortling to himself. by putting effort into debunking them, he validates their stupidity. Ridiculing and marginalising them would have been the proper response.

    • Eudaimonist

      I think ignoring them is absolutely the best route to take. Not giving them the “oxygen of respectability” (quickly becoming a favorite term of mine) is much better than engaging them. If they get loud enough, like Obama it can also be useful to shame them into silence by not only producing proof, but rubbing it in at a White House dinner. (Or in Tablos case… through song?)

  • wazza

    laughter is probably best. Make the lunatic fringe look like a lunatic fringe.

    • wazza

      it’s a better solution, I think, than getting the police involved over what is essentially name-calling:

      • Custador

        Well, I don’t know. If his reputation and his income are being impacted by an organised group of people spreading a lie, then I would say he has every right to demand compensation for his losses.

        • wazza

          sue them for defamation, maybe. Looks bad when you get Interpol involved, though.

          • Custador

            Meh. I think he’s using legal recourse to protect his reputation from a lie. I can understand that. If there was any truth to them, or even a reasonable doubt, I’d view police involvement more critically. But at the end of the day, he’s being attacked with a lie, so whatever means he chooses to defend himself with within the law are valid in my mind.

  • Baconsbud

    I don’t think there is much you can do about it. If I remember correctly a study done at the University of Michigan found 60% of Americans will deny facts and 27% will believe more strongly in the lie. Until the education system is allowed to teach critical thinking skills to children we are going to have this type of thinking.

  • WarbVIII

    You have a point Custador,buuuut I do think proof trumps conspiracy theroies. Unfourtunately proof and facts matter little anymore,which is the real problem.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Mark Sisson, a very fit low-carb advocate, headed off rumors that pictures of him on his site are old and photo-shopped. He talks about how rumors can grow out of control on the internet due to the phenomena Baconsbud mentions. “Bacon” in “Baconsbud” reminded me of this low-carb guru — he loves bacon. (BTW, Mark’s advice is good)

    • WMDKitty

      Dammit, now I want bacon… *pout*

  • Mark the Pilgrim

    That has got to be the lamest conspiracy theory ever.

  • The Other Tom

    “But then, how exactly do you deal with these kinds of conspiracy theories?”

    Sue the accusers and the operators of the web sites that promote them for libel. The problem is not that these accusations get made, the problem is that nobody does anything about it.

    • JohnMWhite

      I’m not sure how well libel would stick in a place like Korea, or in the United States, and the fact that it’s the Internet and this stuff could be written or hosted anywhere on Earth tangles things further. I’m not comfortable with the idea that you can muzzle people online anyway. The UK just went through a very bad episode of people trying to sue twitter users for telling the truth, because they had acquired a super injunction to stop people talking about the fact they weren’t allowed to talk about some guy having an affair.

      I think ideally the best thing to do is to ignore it as far as possible. You’ll never convince everybody. Try convincing a Tea Bagger that Obama isn’t a Communist Nazi – despite it being a political impossibility, let alone inaccurate. I was actually disappointed that Obama produced his birth certificate because all it did was give the mainstream press a reason to talk more about the idiots who didn’t believe him, while the idiots who didn’t believe him just said “what took you so long?” and continued to not believe him. I don’t think it achieved anything; it’s not hard to say “he forged it” or “the governor of Hawaii is colluding with him”. Some people will just never be satisfied because any evidence that conflicts with their opinion is planted or fabricated. I think as atheists we can sympathise with that mentality to some extent – it is pretty hard to not raise our eyebrows at certain early texts mentioning Jesus, for instance. Of course our pre-supposition is that there probably is no god, rather than ‘that black guy cannot be American because I do not want him to be’.

      Eventually there probably comes a point where action has to be taken, though. What that next step is I could not say, because none of the options really appeal, and it sucks that people are sometimes forced into picking from a bad bunch because of ignorance, fear and plain lies.

  • Jordan

    You say, “Okay, whatever,” and then ignore them.

  • vasaroti

    I don’t care for his music, but his English is technically correct. Apparently he researched his master’s thesis in teh ghetto.

  • Noelle

    Korean’s rap?

    • Noelle

      without apostrophe

    • Tyrrlin

      Oh yes. They also have some really kickin’ techno music I’ve been fortunate enough to play while stationed over there in the Army (band). However, they clap on 1 and 3, so it kinda broke my brain to the point of giggling when I saw it.

  • Jing-Reed

    And throw into this mix the fact that more than half of all South Korean religious adherents are Christian [more than 13 million of them].

    And many here at Unreasonable Faith are aware of how most Christians prefer fantasy or fabrication over actual facts.


    • Jonathan M.S. Pearce

      Genius, Jing-Reed.

  • WMDKitty

    I’ll stick with my Roswell-aliens CT, thanks, this is too silly.

    (What? It’s fun to speculate!)

  • Alien

    Sorry for the off topic but when I go to the home page the most recent post I am seeing is one from July 22… I thought no posts had been here for a week and was like wtf and then found the facebook page showing newer posts. I can view posts with the date in the URL. However, only shows me up to July 22… even if I click the home button from the post it does that. Any ideas why?

    • Jonathan M.S. Pearce

      That’s also happened to me. However, it only happens when I use one laptop with Internet Explorer. My other laptop with Googlo Chrome loads the pages as per normal. Must be a feed issue to IE.

    • trj

      Let me guess, it shows “Atheism in a Postmodern World” as the top post.

      Yeah, this is also happening to me. It stopped happening a few days ago in my IE browser, but today it’s stuck again. My Chrome and Firefox browsers have had the problem consistently.

      • trj

        It seems the problem goes away once you submit a comment. I submitted the previous comment in IE, and it now shows the updated page properly. Still stuck in the other browsers, though, so I’ll have to submit using those as well.

        And no telling when the problem reappears, of course. Admins, could you please look into this? I’ve already submitted the problem before.

        • Alien

          Yeah it is “Atheism in a Postmodern World” over and over again. I use Firefox and have had this problem on a Windows XP machine as well as a Windows 7 machine. I had this problem in East Texas as well as in Austin so various IPs don’t seem to make a difference. I have cleared the browser cache multiple times and that doesn’t matter. I submitted the above comment from a different computer so I will have to see if this works on this one ;)

          • Alien

            OK so after I posted the comment, I clicked ‘home’ above and it worked with up to date posts and all! Then I cleared my browser cache. I clicked ‘home’ and traveled back in time to July 22 and Atheism in a Postmodern World. All my browsers are set to clear on exit from Firefox for privacy reasons so for some reason if there is no cookie present the server serves me July 22.