[Viewpoint] Internet wake-up call for GNPAn official working on the Grand National Party’s by-election campaign said recently that “social networking services are at the forefront [of attempts to woo voters]” and this was certainly the case in the last two elections as sites like Twitter telegraphed their power to galvanize the masses.
During the by-election on April 27, the GNP lost its stronghold of Bundang District in Seongnam, Gyeonggi by a single percentage point as the Democratic Party candidate edged ahead with 51 percent of the vote.
On the morning of Election Day, the ruling party appeared destined for victory before young people began committing themselves in earnest on their way home from work. They flocked to voting stations as messages spread on popular networking sites about how the opposition party was losing the battle.
The final turnout stood at 49.1 percent, an usually high rate for a by-election, and the DP candidate was triumphant.
The second example of the power of online posts is the liberal primary that took place on Oct. 3 at Jangchung Stadium. Independent candidate Park Won-soon picked up 46.3 percent of the vote and beat his DP rival. In this case, as in the former, the ability to mobilize the masses online beat the offline organizational prowess of the largest opposition party.
It is no wonder that the GNP feels a sense of crisis, but the way it has responded leaves much to be desired, especially as it appeared to have little or no knowledge about social networking services and how they can be utilized.
GNP’s Seoul mayoral candidate Na Kyung-won has earned the unflattering nickname of “narcissist” after a series of messages expressing support for her - which she penned herself - were posted on her Twitter account. Her campaign, quickly moving into damage-control mode, said it was a mistake by a campaign official.
GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo also highlighted the GNP’s lack of understanding about modern media instruments when he told Kim Eo-jun, host of the Internet radio program “I Am Ggomsu” (“I am a sneak”), that he would appear on the show “for one hour during prime time.”
Unfortunately for Hong, he had no idea that the show had gained a large following for lambasting the ruling party and the Blue House, nor that it was delivered to listeners in the form of a podcast.
His “prime time” comment instantly became a subject of ridicule as podcasts can be downloaded and listened to at anytime. As he later admitted to not knowing what a podcast was, the situation quickly became farcical and Hong lost face for volunteering for the starring role in the anti-GNP comedy.
Quite clearly, the conservative camp simply has no idea what social networking services are, nor that they represent a sphere of influence which tends to move at light speed.
The GNP keeps failing because it tries to deal with issues at its usual pace, which is too say, far slower than the rate of real-time uploads and downloads.
Now the government has come out and said it will strengthen censorship over online social networks, presumably in an attempt to stop being a laughing stock.
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced such services will be probed for election law violations. And the Korea Communications Standards Commission said it will create a new department to censor them as well as podcasts. The approach is closer to that adopted by China than the United States.
The National Election Commission is already investigating similar violations by social networks. But the ones that were clearly illegal are not really the problem as users of sites like Twitter and Facebook were naturally repulsed by most of these.
The ruling party’s real challenge is the countless political messages being posted with anti-GNP and anti-conservative sentiments. Treating them as subjects of censorship will only provoke their enemies to stir up more trouble.
The social network services can act like a public telephone and as such, the freedom of expression in private communications between individual users must be respected.
This is a sensitive time for Korea. The Seoul mayoral race is heating up and the legislative and presidential elections will arrive next year. It is not a time to keep fumbling out of frustration due to archaic ways of thinking.
Conservatism does not mean being tied to the past, but as of now, the young conservatives cannot grow.
*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Byung-sang