Naver’s god-like powers
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The prime minister is awoken in the middle of night by an emergency call. A British princess has been kidnapped. The kidnapper posted a video of the princess shrieking for help. He makes the most preposterous demand for her release — the prime minister must have sexual intercourse with a pig on live TV. The prime minister had to comply by four o’clock in the afternoon or the princess dies.
In a poll, 72 percent of people said that the prime minister should not succumb to such an obnoxious threat. Thinking that the death of the princess would also be the end of his political career, the prime minister hires an adult film actor to stand in for the act. But his plan flops after the scheme is leaked.
The kidnapper then releases a video of him harming the princess. The public becomes enraged and their opinion flips in just a few hours, with a poll showing that 86 percent of the public demand that the prime minister do what the kidnapper wants. The prime minister suddenly becomes the enemy of the state.
This is the shocking plot of the first episode of the British TV series “Black Mirror,” which is a dark satire on the impact of social media and new technologies on modern society. It takes its name from the blackened screen of a laptop computer or smartphone not in use.
The drama first aired in 2011 and has run for four seasons, examining and questioning whether modern civilization is any happier or freer with all the convenient tools of digitalization and automation now available.
Naver is the household name in digital Korea. The home-grown search engine that began in 1999 is now a conglomerate falling under the same scrutiny as traditional manufacturing powerhouses Hyundai, SK and LG. Naver is a gateway to the internet in everyday Korean lives. People eat, shop and watch films and TV programs with Naver’s aid and guidance. One click on the Naver page can save a wasteful quarrel with a friend over who was the champion of the 1994 World Cup. People have become cleverer thanks to it, although it remains to be seen whether they are any wiser.
The so-called Druking scandal underscored another aspect of the Naver influence. Cyberspace is a battleground on opinions. Druking, — a powerful blogger who is accused of orchestrating an online campaign in favor or against President Moon Jae-in — wrote in one of his postings that public opinion is defined by the top trending reader comments on news articles posted to Naver. “An online defeat leads to the same offline result,” he claimed.
Through the employment of an army of allies or software programs, an overwhelming amount of “likes” can put a certain comment at the top. The top pick then becomes popular opinion.
There is a greater fundamental flaw. Five picks make top-shelf news on the Naver site. Naver says that a special program packages news of a certain topic in a cluster, from which a news curator — a Naver employee — chooses to put some on the top shelf.
There are solutions to the risks of opinion manipulation on Korea’s most-used website. The best way would be banning Naver from news distribution. Second, to allow readers access to news, it must guide them to the publisher’s platform through a link. According to the Korea Press Foundation, 77 percent of the population accesses news through portal sites. Since Naver dominates over 70 percent of the portal market, at least half of Korea’s population consumes news through Naver. Domestic antitrust law defines a business as a monopolistic enterprise if it dominates a market share of more than 50 percent.
If Naver refuses to accept the aforementioned solutions, it can at least eliminate the comment section.
A god by definition is a being with supernatural powers or attributes believed to control some part of nature or reality. Naver, with its control over general opinion on cyberspace and ability to play judge on who or what is good and bad — and influencing the success of an election or a business — is a modern god.