A victory of conscience onlineYun Hoo is a star online and offline. He appears in a variety program, “Dad, Where Are We Going?” Viewers instantly fell in love with the 7-year-old boy. On June 10, an anti-fan cafe opened on a portal site, attacking the child star. Yun Hoo’s anti-fan cafe immediately topped the most searched words list. Cyberspace suddenly became heated. The malicious prank was harmful to the innocent child. Then one user came up with an idea: “Let’s drive out the Yun Hoo anti-fan cafe from the search word chart.”
A staff member from the television program also posted on Facebook, “Please type in ‘I Love Yun Hoo’ on the Naver search box.” It was effective. “I Love Yun Hoo” soon made Naver’s fast-rising search word list. In the end, the anti-fan cafe closed. The voluntary search campaign ended with love, and this is the bright side of the Yun Hoo incident.
When your eyes are blinded by the light, you don’t realize how dark the shade can be. While we applaud the happy ending, darkness spreads across cyberspace. The Yun Hoo incident teaches us the reverse side of the case. “If people orchestrate a search, the public opinion can be manipulated or fabricated through the search word ranking.”
Fabrication and manipulation have always been around. The embargo on celebrity-related press releases provided by some entertainment management companies is lifted at 8 a.m. Just as people arrive at work, news is published online on portal sites. And celebrities names’ climb up the real-time search rankings rapidly. The manipulation does not stop there. Some pseudo-media come in to attract clicks and begin to copy and reproduce the same stories to lure curious readers who click on the most-searched words.
It is the beginning of shameless journalism. While the search word is created, copied and reproduced, the vicious cycle makes the search word continue to rise in the rankings. As some trivial piece of information about celebrities is exaggerated as news, the management company enjoys a positive PR effect. Meanwhile, those who access Naver are manipulated by the deceptive information. Naver knows this ugly dynamic for sure. But the portal giant is looking away as any click brings income, whether the search was manipulated or fabricated.
Online space is becoming increasingly desolate. As the expansion and dominance of Naver has destroyed the business ecosystem, the information communication channel is distorted. While the risk of fabrication and manipulation is growing, the control system is still very weak. Business-minded information manipulation is evolving into political and ideological information manipulation. Various controversies are emerging already. Last year, Naver was suspected of removing search words and phrases about a ruling party politician’s scandal from the rankings.
What pulled down the Yun Hoo anti-fan cafe was the attention and action of the people who love the child. To drive out false information from the online space, Internet users need to keep keen eyes and make resolute actions. When the information ecosystem is destroyed, democracy will no doubt be in jeopardy.
*The author is a new media editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By KIM JONG-YOON