Naver policy restricts expression

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Naver policy restricts expression

Less than an hour after a 37-year-old worker, who asked not to be identified, left a comment on the portal site Naver in which he criticized the Moon Jae-in government for its cabinet picks and called for a more thorough vetting process, his comment was deleted.

This was the result of Naver’s new feature, “Joint Campaign for Appropriate Online Culture,” introduced on July 22, which automatically deletes a comment if a certain number of portal users request that it be removed.

“I was taken aback by the deletion,” the worker said, “because I did not insult anyone or use foul language.”

Prior to the new feature, Naver was entirely in charge of managing comment sections, deleting comments that use foul language or contain illegal advertisements. But the site was under growing criticism that it held too much managing power, so it decided to hand that task over to users.

“With this new feature, we are not making decisions as to what comments stay and what comments get removed,” said one Naver official. “We have provided users’ the right of choice with the new feature.”

The official added, “There are many cases in which comments still leave many feelings insulted even if they don’t have profane words. To reduce the number of such comments, we decided to turn comment managing authority over to the users.”

While it has just been a week since the new feature was launched, there are concerns that it could infringe upon people’s freedom of expression or distort public opinion.

“The new feature can be exploited by a group intent on setting public discourse for political causes,” said Lee Jong-hyuk, who teaches journalism media at Kwangwon University. “It therefore raises the possibility that a political group willing to dominate the public discussion could disregard minority opinions.”

The new comment feature is the latest in a series of changes the portal giant has introduced to its news section.

In March, Naver introduced the AiRS system, which selects news stories based on a user’s past reading. It also allows users to decide whether they want to see a combination of news stories from different media companies or have stories from one.

Jung Nak-won, professor of journalism at Seoul Women’s University, said media firms that provide news articles to Naver should have more management control over their content being consumed on the portal site.

“We can’t have a healthy news distribution environment if a portal site, which doesn’t have news editing authority, keeps control over the way news is being read.”

BY LEE CHANG-GYUN [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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