Police nab man behind Facebook falsification

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Police nab man behind Facebook falsification

On April 17, a day after the Sewol ferry capsized in the waters off the southwestern coast, a Facebook message uploaded around 11:20 a.m. provided a glint of hope that some of the passengers aboard the ship may still be alive.

The post appeared to have been made by an 11th-grade girl, surnamed Han, a student at Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi, who was one of nearly 300 people missing who were assumed to be trapped inside the sunken vessel in Jindo, South Jeolla.

“Please spread this news. There are six of us in the cabin next to the cafeteria. The mobile phones of the rest don’t work. I hear the sound of glass breaking. I can’t see anything. There are lots of people in the cafeteria. Please come to rescue us as soon as possible,” it read.

The Facebook message was made public after it was captured and shared by a third person, and even showed a GPS location for when the post was uploaded. It news spread across cyberspace at a tremendous speed.

However, police confirmed a few days later that an investigation had found that Han never used her mobile phone on April 16 or April 17. Still, a number of citizens scoffed at the announcement, believing the government was trying to “conceal the truth.”

Then Han’s corpse was discovered on Monday, five days after the accident.

Yesterday, the cyberinvestigation team of the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency announced that it had identified a suspect and is investigating a 20-year-old college student only known by his family name, Kim.

According to authorities, he allegedly visited the girl’s Facebook page, downloaded her profile photo and impersonated her - taking advantage of the fact that a person can have multiple Facebook accounts - and manipulated the location information.

He then created another account that supposedly belonged to one of Han’s friends, a girl named Lee, to make it look as if she had been the first to call attention to her friend’s urgent aid request. Police said Kim confessed to fabricating the posts and the Facebook accounts after watching an interview with Han’s father on television.

The 20-year-old apparently heard a rumor in September that Facebook pages with a high number of “likes” and “shares” could be sold at a high price to those looking to become Internet celebrities, which he said inspired him to make the false account.

Under Korea’s current telecommunication act, simply spreading false information online does not provide sufficient legal grounds for punishment, and police are currently deliberating their next step.

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

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