It is only May and it is already clear that 2020 will be studied in future history classes. These are uncertain times we live in, and recently that uncertainty has extended from our daily lives to the political situation in the distant and reclusive nation of North Korea.
North Korea occupies a specific corner of both geopolitics and the American mind. The country is nowhere near being a superpower; it is neither instrumental in driving international law and relations nor a powerful enough economy to play a large role in commerce. It is only when something strange, interesting, or frightening comes out of North Korea that it is brought, once again, to the forefront.
Usually when North Korea is on the mind it is because they did something like send missiles over Japan or tried to internationally debut their state-run pop group. This time, though it was something far more unusual – Kim Jong-un was missing.
The dictator’s sudden disappearance sent the media into an absolute frenzy. Many headlines boldly reported that he was already dead. Some said that he was braindead. Politicians, celebrities, and social media personalities chipped in with all kinds of different takes. Governments both friend and enemy to North Korea made their own statements: China said Kim was fine, South Korea said there was no reason to believe he was not healthy, and Japan believed his health to be questionable at best. The US government took no coherent stance, but produced satellite images of Kim’s private train at one of his resorts. Stuck at home and without anything else to talk about, everyone seemed to have their own idea of what happened and everyone seemed 100 percent certain that they were right.
Speculation was running wild over what would happen if Kim were to die, and over who his successor might be. Many pointed to his sister, Kim Yo-jong. She has gained much power in the regime as Kim Jong-un’s most trusted advisor and would seem to be a logical choice for a successor, but North Korea is known to be an intensely patriarchal society that might not accept a female leader – even one in the family they are loyal to. So, with regime collapse in the far east on the line, the world collectively sat on their couches and prepared, morbidly, to have their boredom satiated by a North Korean power struggle.
But then, Kim Jong-un reappeared and he was completely fine. As it turns out, the reports of his death or mental collapse had been greatly exaggerated, and life in North Korea goes on.
Herein lies the danger in unverified reporting and wild speculation. In this age of information overload, especially in a time when we have nothing to do but sit around and consume that information, it is essential that we verify our sources. Make sure the news outlet is trustworthy before you put any stock in it, then cross-reference it with other news sources. With something as important as the fate of a country in question, we must ensure that we have a concrete understanding of the situation instead of operating on rumors and hearsay. News should not be something that is sold by sensationalist headlines and clickbait; it should simply be the presentation of undisputed facts. Next time Kim Jong-un disappears (he has disappeared before and he will again), tread with caution.