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Understanding the meaning depends from person to person

This post explores how meaning is negotiated and created. To do so, it examines a meme and includes at least one alternative interpretation. It also reflects on the cognitive bias that can affect how we generate and disseminate meaning in our own social networks.

For the meme exercise we chose this meme.

The meme relates to the complex question of data transparency and democracy in North Korea. We would like to discuss a topic of human rights in North Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this picture, we can see Kim Jong-un (Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea) with people dressed as doctors who practice shooting. We don’t know how old the picture is, but it fits perfectly into the context of North Korea as the country with the worst human rights record in the world. Namely, people around the world perceive North Korea as an isolationist country with one of the cruellest dictatorship regimes in the world. So, it’s not surprising that even today we can’t find proper data of the cases of the coronavirus in North Korea due to the severe censorship.

What is the message?
The message is that people around the world believe that North Korean doctors might be forced to kill people to prevent the spreading of the COVID-19. Although it objectively seems impossible, one can never know what dictators are about to do.

What signs/symbols does it use to get that message across?
On the picture we can see people dressed in white robes with surgical masks on their faces and stethoscopes around their necks, which clearly shows that they are doctors. The next symbol is the gun which is held by a doctor, and this symbolises the doctor killing the patients. Kim Jong Un standing behind the doctor means that he actually controls the doctor.

What goes without saying?
A 2014 UN inquiry into human rights in North Korea concluded that “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. The fact that North Korea is mysterious and widely perceived as totalitarian state is well known.

When it comes to reflecting on cognitive media bias, after reading the article “Biases Make People Vulnerable to Misinformation Spread by Social Media” and the analysis given regarding a modern trend and threat created by the internet and more specifically social media, some conclusions can be drawn.

Quoting and referencing to what Mark Twain said and the famous actor Denzel Washington repeated in an interview – “if you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” One conclusion definitely must be that we, society as a whole, are going to experience much more than we are now, with the creation of more elaborate fake news, events and even press conference statements. One example and reason why that would be the case is AI, being used now for the purpose of creating “fake bloggers” who are going to take the place covered now by real life “influencers. They are expected to be something that will drive young generations to new trends with lower costs. However giving to those behind them the opportunity to promote any fake information they need.

Political activity has also shown how this tool can, if used properly, or improperly, if sarcastically speaking, bring points to the side that uses it, giving high advantages and even the final victory when things are on the edge. In our part of the world, the Balkans, possible views of social media misuse are the famous bots, giving positive or negative comments, together with likes to respectively the political party the are used for or against. This is something difficult to see in the same form in western countries, as they are covered more by police and legal control. However it is absolutely wrong to say that these things do not happen somewhere.In order to find a solution to this problem without entering too much into people’s privacy, lawmakers must work very closely with programmers and specifically the social media companies, as fake news is a trend that definitely poses a threat to the stability not only of small social groups but entire nations and international relations.

All in all, technology is going to keep advancing and it will become very hard to deduce whether something seen online is true or not, meaning that people who discover these negative side of their life online may even start losing belief in the internet itself, without however the ability or freedom to live without it.

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