For a dignified InternetKorean portal sites are flashy. They are not mere “gateways” but passages in the busy entertainment district touting various businesses. They are overflowing with advertisements for all kinds of services. The most eye-catching section is the mysterious “search word ranking” provided by each portal site.
Naver and Daum, the top two portals in Korea, each offer “Real-Time Emerging Search Words” and “Real-Time Issues.” The top 10 most-searched keywords on the site make the ranking, and they often make you skeptical of how genuine they are. They are generally filled with detailed gossip about celebrities. The search word ranking is actually a product of a business strategy.
The search word ranking is driving online journalism to the brink. Fake news items are repeated and spread all over. The search word ranking evokes curiosity, and users click on the news. In the ecosystem of the Internet, clicks mean money. Just as bad money drives out good, fake news drives out real news.
On May 6, the most rapidly emerging keyword was “Self-injury at Dongdaegu Station.” The media reported that a man in his 30s cut off his genitals with a knife at the train station, and users who clicked the keyword were surprised to find dozens of articles by the same media company, with slightly altered titles and sentences.
Articles titled “Photos of Dongdaegu Station Incident,” “Self-Injury at Dongdaegu Station, Bloody Photos,” and “Man in 30s, Self-Injury at Dongdaegu Station” basically told the same story. But in order to attract clicks, some media posted the same item repeatedly. This is not the first time. A click on most search keywords leads to a list of similar articles.
As this pattern is repeated, truly important news items are pushed aside. Readers also feel disappointed by online journalism mainly dealing with celebrity news. The media is primarily responsible for the crisis of online news. They need to make sincere efforts to establish a true sense of journalism.
Portals cannot be free from responsibility for providing the initial cause. They provided the search word ranking, knowing well that the cyberworld would be disturbed by it. A portal site insider said that self-purification is needed, but it is not easy considering the physiology of the market. No bee would refrain from the open honey jar of “search word ranking.”
Major portals of developed nations do not offer search word rankings. They seem to believe such sly business tactics create internet pollution. In Korea, pollutants are thick in cyberspace. Users’ health deteriorates day by day. If users think online media cannot provide true public opinion and accurate information, they would leave cyberspace in the end. It is regrettable that first-class portals like Naver and Daum are making a business out of search words. First-class companies need to do business with dignity.
*The author is a new media editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-yoon