Search words rank high for no reason

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Search words rank high for no reason


Mr. A works in the public relations department for dramas on network television. His job involves distributing press releases about dramas and their cast members. Because online opinions on entertainment shows are so influential and quick, his work focuses on online PR. The self-proclaimed “night owl” begins work at 11 p.m., when most dramas are over. He creates press releases by summarizing reviews and viewers’ reactions. If a drama becomes hugely popular, newspapers will cover it even before he sends out promotional material. Also, it would rise rapidly in real-time search rankings. These days, the war over search terms is as fierce as the ratings themselves.

Real-time search phrases may seem to reflect immediate public opinion, but it is just as paradoxical as the celebrities who are “famous for being famous.” In fact, some search keywords lack substance or information but garner attention from Internet users just because they are popular search words. As more people search the term, it goes up in the rankings. That is the paradox of the search word. I have searched popular keywords to find out why they are popular, even when I know they don’t mean much.

The paradox of the popular search word is based on the effect of “social proof,” similar to the fake laughter on comedy shows or advertisements that emphasize how popular a product is. The fake laughter on comedy shows is quite awkward, but viewers find the show funnier when they hear other people laughing more frequently and longer. People tend to follow what the majority is doing in order to minimize making social mistakes.

In the last few days, minyeonghwa, or privatization, was a popular search word. At the same time, “actress Min Yeong-hwa” and “Miss Min Yeong-hwa” were also ranked high. They topped the chart for a while. Some media explained how they became popular search terms. On Dec. 12, a report came out that prosecutors were investigating allegations that female celebrities were paid to provide sexual services for money. The “financial industry insider news” mentioned some initials, including MYH, and someone guessed it must be Min Yeong-hwa. There was an interesting interpretation that the celebrity sex-for-money scandal was leaked to divert the attention from controversial social issues such as the KTX privatization, and instead, actress Min Yeong-hwa became a popular keyword.

There is no way to verify if there’s any truth to this story. But it is clearly a not-so-funny occurrence of real-time search word rankings about the privatization of a public corporation or actress Min Yeong-hwa’s prostitution allegation. What or who is minyeonghwa, indeed?

*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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