Manipulating news arrangementThe country’s dominant portal site Naver has been accused of manipulating news arrangement to minimize exposure of searches on Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who is grappling with allegations over her son having received special favors during his military service in 2017. When Choo’s name was typed in English by mistake in the search engine, it is spelled “cnaldo,” which the automatic language conversion system should convert back to Korean to execute the search.
But that did not work in the Naver engine. Such subtle exemptions for Choo were pointed out by Kim Keun-shik, a professor at Kyungnam University and a member of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). After he raised the issue on his social media page, Naver responded that it was a technical error that had been fixed. The typo’s automatic conversion was disallowed because cnaldo could connect to Christiano Ronaldo, a famous soccer player in Europe.
But why the so-called technical error in the case of Choo was left unattended until Prof. Kim had publicly pointed it out and why automatic conversion was blocked singularly for her name still remain questionable. Although Naver makes excuses, her name comes up with no problem whether typed in English or Korean in Google.
Domestic portal sites have been excusing themselves every time they are accused of unfairly editing news and searches by citing technical and algorithm errors. But the act of making excuses means they are admitting to their ability to tamper with edits and searches. If Naver is used by the biggest number of Koreans and manipulates public opinion for a certain power, the country’s democracy could be at risk.
As Naver has been repeatedly suspected of fixing searches, it can now invite more suspicions. Rep. Yoon Young-chan — a former Naver vice president before being recruited as a presidential spokesman — raised uproar for texting during a legislative session to bring the Kakao executive to his office after Daum — a portal site owned by Kakao — placed the opposition party floor leader’s speech at the top of its main news page. Considering the impertinence of his thought, he could have put even bigger pressure on Naver where he used to work.
Naver must not duck away by laying the blame on AI. It must investigate whether it came under political influence and take actions to prevent any meddling in portal operations down the road.