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Blogger flips to not guilty in Druking case

July 05,2018
A political blogger on trial for using software to manipulate public opinion against President Moon Jae-in on social media pleaded not guilty in his final hearing at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday.

In his testimony, the blogger, Kim Dong-won, also known by his online alias Druking, said it was not illegal to use software to automatically click “like” on comments. Prosecutors indicted Kim on an obstruction of business charge for meddling with comments on Naver, a popular portal site, and inflating likes on certain political comments to give the impression that one opinion dominated.

“The prosecutors’ charge that I have obstructed Naver’s business by using software to rig ‘likes’ on comments to articles has legal loopholes,” Kim said. “It is not illegal to use software to click ‘like’ on comments automatically, and through the software, Naver actually gained business because of increased web traffic, which gave Naver more advertising power and opportunities. So the argument that we obstructed Naver’s business is not sound.”

Prosecutors indicted Kim and three of his associates for using a program called King Crab to click 1.84 million “like” and “dislike” buttons on about 16,000 comments to 537 articles on Naver using 2,286 user accounts between Jan. 17 and 18.

One of the alleged intentions was to make the Moon administration’s decision to form an inter-Korean ice hockey team for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics seem unpopular.

Kim’s testimony on Wednesday was an about-face from a statement he made at his first hearing on May 2. Although Kim essentially pleaded guilty in that hearing, the court did not deliver a sentence, instead siding with prosecutors who demanded a trial and more time to investigate. Kim then shifted his position in his last hearing on Wednesday to not guilty.

The court plans to announce a verdict on July 25.

Meanwhile, an independent counsel continues its own investigation into the case. The probe began on June 27 to look into allegations that Democratic Party leaders were involved in the group’s manipulation campaign.

Although Kim and his associates have been formally charged for rigging public opinion against Moon, they allegedly engaged in similar activity to support Moon during his presidential run last year.

Authorities uncovered text messages between Kim and a former Democratic lawmaker, Kim Kyoung-soo, who is now governor of South Gyeongsang.

In the messages, Kim Kyoung-soo asked Kim Dong-won to promote articles related to Moon between January and March 2017, during Moon’s presidential campaign. Kim Kyoung-soo was a close aide to Moon during the campaign.

Later, Kim Dong-won allegedly turned on Moon when his administration refused to offer patronage positions to his associates.

In a letter to the Chosun Ilbo, a local daily, in May, Kim Dong-won said Kim Kyoung-soo “confirmed in person” how the King Crab software worked when he visited the blogger’s office in October 2016.

Moon’s current secretary for political affairs, Song In-bae, also met with members of the blogger’s political group before last year’s election, according to a Blue House investigation, but the presidential office said it found nothing out of the ordinary with the meetings.

Both Kim Kyoung-soo and Song have denied their involvement in the manipulation campaign, but the special counsel could summon them for questioning in the coming weeks.

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