Just as they were poised to break into the U.S., Korean hip-hop group Epik High found themselves plagued by an online campaign to discredit their leader, Dan “Tablo” Lee.
…at the height of the group’s fame, the comments sections of articles about Epik High started filling up with anonymous messages accusing Lee of lying about his Stanford diploma. In May 2010 an antifan club formed and quickly attracted tens of thousands of members who accused him of stealing someone’s identity, dodging the draft, and faking passports, diplomas, and transcripts. The accusations were accompanied by supposed evidence supplied by the online masses, who also produced slick YouTube attack videos. It was a full-fledged backlash.
By that summer, Lee’s alleged fraud had become one of Korea’s top news items. Death threats streamed in, and Lee found himself accosted by angry people on the street. Since his face was so recognizable, he became a virtual prisoner in his Seoul apartment. In a matter of weeks, he went from being one of the most beloved figures in the country to one of the most reviled.
But in fact Lee had not lied about his academic record. He actually did graduate from Stanford in three and a half years with two degrees. His GPA had been in the top 15 percent of his undergraduate class. The evidence marshaled against him was false. It was an online witch hunt, and last spring I set out to discover why it happened.
This story is fascinating like a good conspiracy novel — and very disturbing because the conspiracy was all too real. What’s also fascinating and disturbing, though, were the lengths people would go to in order to hold onto a narrative even when they were confronted with evidence that clearly proved that narrative to be false.
Thankfully, Lee’s career survived, and he’s poised for even greater success now. However, it could’ve gone horribly and violently wrong.