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Naver vows to have AI manage its news page

Dec 08,2017
Naver, the internet portal operator that has come under fire for curating news articles in favor of business interests, said Thursday that it would remove human management of its popular news page and let an algorithm do the work.

Many experts, though, remain skeptical about the measure, arguing that the best solution would be for internet giants to pull out of news aggregation altogether.

At a discussion co-hosted by Rep. Song Hee-kyoung of the Liberty Korea Party and Rep. Oh Se-jung of the People’s Party at the National Assembly, a Naver executive said the company was listening to the public’s criticism and responding accordingly.

“We humbly accept the various issues raised,” said Yoo Bong-seok, the executive director in charge of Naver’s media platform.

The company’s employees are currently involved in curating 20 percent of all news articles shown on the main news page, he said, while the remaining 80 percent is done by an algorithm.

In the near future, Yoo said, Naver will have the algorithm and human editors outside the company take full responsibility of curation, except for sections where news outlets curate and edit their own articles. He did not elaborate on when exactly the new policy would go into effect.

Naver’s website is how most Koreans access stories from hundreds of Korean media outlets, but it has been marred in the past by controversy about how articles are curated on the page. In October, MBC Sports Plus News reported that Naver had buried a sports story unfavorable toward the Korean football league after an official made a call to the website.

Yoo promised to launch an algorithm assessment committee consisting of external experts by next March to evaluate the fairness of news curation at Naver. The company will also arrange a forum for journalists, politicians, academics and civic groups to give their opinions on the issue, and to improve transparency, Naver launched an internal “management innovation project” led by CEO Han Seong-sook on Dec. 1. At the National Assembly discussion, experts expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the new initiatives.

“The issue of fairness in internet portals’ news caution has been around for 10 years,” said Son Young-jun, a professor of communications at Kookmin University. “They came up with a variety of solutions that ended up being reform for the sake of reform.”

He proposed that tech companies like Naver either entirely withdraw from news editing or allow each news outlet have its own space so users can choose which outlet to read.

Hang Yong-suk, a professor of media communications at Konkuk University, questioned about how reliable an algorithm might be in news curation. “It is true that AI news curation is a global trend, but it is uncertain whether it is better than humans.”

The professor added that Korea is the only country in the world where portal sites assume much of the responsibility and blame. “There is no clear solution because portals embrace the interests of so many parties - readers, media outlets and politicians who are sensitive to news.”


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]


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