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South Korea ferry disaster: Fake survivor posts add to nation's anguish

By Frances Cha, CNN
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
  • Police say messages from 'survivors trapped in ferry' are fake
  • South Korea gripped by the tragedy
  • Social media full of well-wishers

(CNN) -- Disgust, anger and shock greeted official statements from South Korean authorities that texts and social media posts from survivors trapped inside the stricken ferry had been faked.

Messages such as "I am still alive... in the cafeteria please help me my battery is running out please believe me," and "My phone is not working I am inside the boat I can't see anything" were spreading on social media on Thursday -- as late as over 24 hours after the incident.

The messages gave extra substance to hope at least some of the hundreds of missing passengers were alive and awaiting rescue.

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Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok was acquitted of murder, avoiding a death sentence, but was sentenced to 36 years in jail on November 11 for his role in the maritime disaster that killed more than 300. Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok was acquitted of murder, avoiding a death sentence, but was sentenced to 36 years in jail on November 11 for his role in the maritime disaster that killed more than 300.
South Korean ferry sinks
Photos: South Korean ferry sinks Photos: South Korean ferry sinks
South Korean ferry rescue operation  South Korean ferry rescue operation
South Korean ferry rescue operationSouth Korean ferry rescue operation

News and rumors of the texts circulated around families of the missing. The purported texts contained so much detail, they made relatives "surprised and excited," one mother said earlier this week.

The texts also fueled a tense atmosphere at Jindo -- where distraught families viewed them as proof several passengers were alive. This led to remonstrations and the hurling of objects at authorities, who relatives accused of not doing enough to save their children.

"An investigation from the Police Cyber Terror Response Center verified that all texts in question [from passengers still within the ship] are fake," South Korea police posted on its official Twitter account.

"Please stop such actions that are causing pain to the families of missing passengers. The malicious distributors of these texts will be strictly dealt with."

South Korea has been gripped by this tragedy and the pronouncement of these fake social posts added to the collective anguish -- especially as social media has been playing a crucial role in relaying information from the site.

Police successfully put out a call on social media to find any relatives of a rescued six-year-old girl who had been on board with her parents and older brother.

The revelations of fake posts have added to a growing sense of public confusion, mistrust and escalating frustration -- particularly among the passengers' relatives -- over the handling of the search and rescue operations, media coverage and official releases of information.

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Nationwide grief

Across the country, scheduled festivals, concerts and school field trips are among the events that have been canceled.

TV networks have been carrying the search virtually non-stop since the incident.

All news and top searched keywords on the main Internet portals remain linked to the ship, while wishes for good news are flooding social media.

"Hoping everyone will be returned to the arms of their families ... Please be strong. Remembering the SEWOL disaster ..." tweeted Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

"All I can hope for is that our friends will return alive ..." tweeted Kim Min Hyuk, a senior at the high school that sent 325 students and 15 teachers on a field trip aboard the ill-fated ferry.

READ: Woman, 71, survives because stranger wouldn't give up on her

READ: Anguish over South Korean ferry sinking amplified by misinformation

READ: How likely is it there are still survivors?

CNN's Madison Park in Jindo contributed to this report.

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