+ A

Naver requests a police probe

Some suspect content is being manipulated to sway public opinion
Jan 23,2018
Naver, a major Korean online news platform, requested that police investigate the company regarding rumors that its comment function has been manipulated to influence public opinion.

“There have been accusations that the number of likes on certain comments have shot up too rapidly,” Naver said in its report to Bundang Police Precinct on Friday, “so the company is requesting a thorough and systemic investigation.”

Two days earlier, the ruling Democratic Party chairwoman Choo Mi-ae said, during a party meeting, “The country’s top portal website has become a center of chaos, filled with personal attacks, criticisms and hatred. Naver has been turning a blind eye to all this.”

Choo’s close aide told the JoongAng Ilbo, “There have been recent reports that the number of likes on some comments shot up exponentially from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., raising suspicion that some users with political motives may be using the macro-processor to influence public opinion.”

A macro-processor enables a user to deliver numerous actions online with a single click. It is sometimes used by people to buy up numerous tickets for a concert and then sell the tickets on a black market. The use of a macro-processor is not illegal in Korea.

“When a news article is uploaded on Naver, you see a negative comment against it put up within seconds,” wrote a user in a petition on the Blue House website Thursday. “Then within minutes, you see that thousands of people have liked the comment, so that the comment is the first thing readers see at the end of the article .?.?. I think there needs to be a serious investigation into Naver.”

The petition received 34,303 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

One YouTube video uploaded with the petition shows a comment at the end of an article that reads, “The Blue House and the ruling party are making a serious mistake here. They are facing the wrath of the people!” The video received 752 likes in two and a half minutes.

“I just saw that an article uploaded on Naver at 2:57 p.m. received a comment at 3 p.m., and then 795 people liked the specific comment within the next 15 minutes,” wrote a user on Twitter on Wednesday. “Isn’t something fishy going on here?”

The opposition parties are also pointing fingers at Naver, saying it allowed supporters of President Moon Jae-in to have leeway on the portal website.

“Moon’s supporters are behind these comment feature manipulations on Naver,” said a member of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “If an article on Naver slightly criticizes the Moon administration, tons of them jump in, writing up positive comments and liking that comment. Police had better investigate these people.”

While Naver does not produce news articles, it arranges and curates them and was found to have the strongest influence on public opinion among media outlets in a survey in October by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Just three months ago, Naver was involved in a similar scandal, in which it was found to have buried a news story by OhMyNews that was unfavorable to the Korean football league, under pressure from MBC Sports Plus News. Its chief executive, Han Seong-sook, issued an apology the day the scandal broke.

BY KWON HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]