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Portals raided in blogger case

Independent counsel wants to know if they knew of manipulation
July 07,2018
The independent counsel probing the manipulation of public opinion about the Moon Jae-in administration searched the offices of Naver, Daum and Nate on Thursday, looking for evidence that the portals allegedly turned a blind eye to the use of software by a group of political bloggers to rig online opinion about Moon’s policies and his presidential campaign.

“If Naver says it was unaware of the use of such software to rig public opinion on the website, which has hundreds of thousands of users every day, the fact that it was unaware of it counts as a dereliction of duty,” a member of the independent counsel team told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“If political bloggers, who are not IT experts, were able to use their software on Naver, then either Naver’s firewall system has big loopholes or Naver knew about the group’s rigging of public opinion but turned a blind eye to it.”

The team seized data on the three portals’ users and their comments. It said it will analyze it to determine the extent of the political bloggers’ alleged public opinion manipulation.

Kim Dong-won, a political blogger also known by the online alias Druking, and his three associates are being tried for obstruction of business. They are accused of using a program called King Crab to click 1.84 million “like” and “dislike” buttons on about 16,000 comments on 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 pled not guilty in a hearing on Wednesday, stating that it is “not illegal to use software to click ‘like’ on comments automatically” and that, if anything, “Naver actually gained business because of increased web traffic” allegedly caused by the use of the software.

A verdict on the charges against Kim and his associates is scheduled to be announced on July 25.

The independent counsel was launched on June 27.

“We’ve unearthed additional possible evidence of illegalities,” another member of the independent counsel team told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday in explaining the reason for the search of offices of Naver, Daum and Nate.

The independent counsel team said, according to records handed over by police, Kim and members of his political blog together manipulated the like and dislike counters on some 1.1 million comments from November 2016 to March this year.

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.

The team summoned for questioning Thursday two members of Kim’s blog, including a 31-year-old man surnamed Park and a 35-year-old man surnamed Yang, who allegedly developed the program King Crab.

The team is also investigating allegations that ruling Democratic Party (DP) leaders were involved in the group’s manipulation campaign.

The independent counsel summoned Friday Kim’s associate, a 46-year-old lawyer surnamed Yoon, who had initially defended Kim in the case but quit after allegations surfaced that Kim tried to get Yoon a job at the Blue House via Kim’s connection with the DP.

Police found text messages exchanged between Kim and former DP 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.

In return, Kim Dong-won allegedly asked Kim Kyoung-soo assistance in getting his associates positions in the Moon administration. One of these associates was Yoon, and it is alleged that the blogger asked the lawmaker for assistance in getting Yoon nominated as a presidential secretary for administration.

After the Moon government did not offer the positions to Kim Dong-won’s associates, Kim Dong-won and his group allegedly turned on Moon.

“[Kim Dong-won] was so angry when the request to have Yoon appointed as a presidential secretary for administration was not met,” a member of Kim’s political blog told the independent counsel team. “Kim said, ‘It’s not that they cannot make it happen for Yoon at the Blue House, they are just not interested in making it happen.’”

BY JEONG JIN-HO, JEONG JIN-WOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]