Thu, Dec 12, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Slippery slope fallacy mars logical discussion

By Tsao Yao-chun 曹耀鈞

On Monday last week, Yang Hui-ju (楊蕙如), who also goes by the name Slow Yang, was indicted by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office for allegedly paying a number of people NT$10,000 a month to act as “cyberwarriors” to manipulate public opinion online, including slandering Taiwan’s former representative in Osaka, Su Chii-cherng (蘇啟誠), who later committed suicide.

The prosecutors should be commended for tracking down the primary suspects responsible for spreading the rumors.

Hopefully, they will take advantage of the public mood to intensify their efforts to investigate and prosecute other people who spread disinformation.

It is all too common to encounter malicious fake news on the Internet that denigrates the nation’s head of state and other government officials, or misrepresents policies.

Each time this happens, the government has to place articles in newspapers and deploy its spokespeople on various media in an effort to clarify the situation.

However, rarely do the authorities discover where these fake news stories originate and seldom are the culprits punished.

The usual explanation for this failure is that the use of overseas accounts makes it difficult to find out who is behind the disinformation.

Many politicians and pundits have taken Yang’s case as an opportunity to criticize their targets. In doing so, they are clearly guilty of using a slippery slope fallacy, by which they posit a string of supposed causes and effects, and then intentionally exaggerating the extent of causation between each link in the chain, leading to a dubious conclusion.

This kind of discourse, which rests its outcome on deceptive assertions, is a technique that sophists often use to capture public attention.

In Yang’s case, did her use of cyberwarriors to sway public opinion really contribute to Su’s death? Can it be further extrapolated that this was done at the behest of Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and that the Democratic Progressive Party was directing it behind the scenes, and that even President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was involved?

Such an absurdly tenuous string of cause and effect is a trick that pundits often use. If a conclusion could really be drawn from so little evidence, what would happen if a talk show host’s assistant fell into legal trouble for spreading rumors that were detrimental to another political camp?

Would it mean that the host must have known about it and have also broken the law? Would it also mean that a particular politician must also have been deeply involved? Should that politician then have to clarify their relations with the host?

It might simply be that a certain political party buys a large amount of advertisements during the time when this program is broadcast, and that the host loves their position so much that they praise their source of income profusely.

If a pundit swears to stand up for a political party and employs a slippery slope argument based on little or no evidence to criticize and attack an opposing party, then that pundit is either ignorant about logical inference or an incompetent commentator who makes false accusations about other people.

Tsao Yao-chun is a researcher with Transparency International Chinese Taipei.

Translated by Julian Clegg

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