Korean voters swamped by fake news reports on social mediaAhead of the next month’s presidential election, Korean voters are deluged with fake news on major social media platforms, and the national election watchdog has so far cracked down on more than 30,000 cases of disinformation.
The JoongAng Ilbo obtained a report on Wednesday from the National Election Commission’s Electoral Cyber Crime Center regarding its crackdowns on illegal internet postings concerning the 19th presidential election on May 9. The commission so far detected 31,004 fake news postings as of Tuesday. It is already 4.3 times higher than the total number of fake news stories shut down during the 2012 presidential election.
Of the 31,004 postings, 20,104 contained fake news and false information, while 9,327 were announcements of illegal surveys. Another 762 contained slander against candidates and 375 were postings containing insults toward specific regions. The National Election Commission deleted the postings after its crackdowns.
The commission also analyzed the distribution channels of fake news stories for the first time at the request of the JoongAng Ilbo. The analysis showed that fake news was mainly disseminated through the country’s largest social media services.
According to the analysis, 26.2 percent was spread through Naver Band, while 23.7 percent was spread through Facebook. Another 22.1 percent was spread through Twitter while Daum Cafe, a community site, was responsible for distributing 5.7 percent and 4.6 percent was distributed through Kakao Story.
Korean voters are familiar with cyber-smear campaigns. During the 2012 presidential election, the National Intelligence Service’s psychological operations division ran an internet campaign to manipulate public opinion by uploading illegal feedback postings on major portal and community sites.
In July 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that 2,125 responses, 1,214 “like” or “dislike” clicks and 110,000 Twitter messages and reposts made by agents of the National Intelligence Service are admissible evidence in the trial over election law violations.
Won Sei-hoon, who headed the top spy agency from 2009 to 2013, was prosecuted in June 2013 for meddling in the presidential election in support of Park Geun-hye by running a cyber-smear campaign against Moon Jae-in, now the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. The Supreme Court sent Won’s case back to the Seoul High Court, and the retrial is still ongoing.
Over the past years, smear campaigns became more up close and personal, flooding voters’ social media feeds. For the upcoming election, the disinformation campaigns using fake news stories particularly gained momentum. After each campaign raised suspicion against rivals, fake news reports spread through social media.
According to the National Election Commission, most of the fake news stories are targeting the two frontrunners, Moon of the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party.
Some of the most viral fake news reports concerning Moon claim he is the advisory lawyer of Sewol victims and that he is the son of a prisoner of war who was a captain in the North Korean army. They also claim Moon owns 200 tons of gold bars and 20 trillion won ($17.6 billion) in slush funds.
Some reports also claim Ahn is the only descendant of Japanese collaborators among the presidential candidates. Fake news stories also claim Ahn’s company is the supplier of the ballot counting machines for the National Election Commission.
Despite the National Election Commission’s efforts to delete the postings, they are still spreading. On Wednesday afternoon, the JoongAng Ilbo searched “Moon, father, North Korean Army Captain” and “Ahn, grandfather, Japanese collaborator” using Google, and the deleted postings were still being spread via Twitter.
“Ahn and the People’s Party are bombarding voters with fake news,” Rep. Yoo Eun-hae, senior spokesman of the Democratic Party’s election committee, said on April 18. “We will ask the prosecution to launch an investigation into 19 managers of Ahn’s fan clubs for making organized attempts to sway public opinion.”
The People’s Party also filed petitions to the prosecution to launch an investigation into 13 managers of Moon’s supporters’ clubs. “A manager of a major fan club of Moon made an order to the members to overload the Internet with critical postings that Ahn’s wife used her visit to comfort women for the election campaign,” said Rep. Lee Yong-joo of the People’ Party.
“Each candidate knows better than anyone that disseminating negative messages through social network services is the most effective strategy to win votes,” said Park Won-ho, professor of political science at Seoul National University. “In the end, the voters need to consume fair and accurate news and filter out fake news. And they must judge with their votes.”
The National Election Commission also warned that generating and distributing fake news stories are illegal campaign activities. “Fake news distorts and manipulates public opinion with its malicious slander and dirty propaganda,” said Lee Myung-haeng, spokesman of the commission. “They are extremely heinous election crimes.”
JUNG HYO-SIK, PARK SEONG-HUN, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@Joongang.co.kr ]