South Korea’s Political Circles Using News Services and Press for Their Own Good

Sep 23, 2019

Naver News’ search volume and real-time search word with a sudden rise have emerged as subject matters that target current politics of South Korea. The opposing party visited Naver’s Headquarters to find out whether Naver manipulated real-time search word with a sudden rise. This issue is expected to be a key issue during a government audit that will start on the 2nd of next month.
It is expected that there will be continuous pressure on South Korean media and portal sites that provide current news as major political events such as election of members of the National Assembly are set to take place next year.
It is true that the amount of news on a particular keyword that is searched on Naver change. However, there is a very low chance that South Korean media and portal sites hide or delete news as they like.
When there was a hearing on Minister Cho Kuk of Ministry of Justice on the 6th, Democratic Party of Korea stated that there were 127,090 reports for 20 days since they nominated candidates to replace Minister Cho Kuk.
Some members presented data that 1.18 million related articles were reported for a month since Democratic Party of Korea nominated candidates. All of these data are based on Naver News’ search volume.
These numbers have led to criticisms that South Korean media is focusing too much on Minister Cho. Number of news related to Minister Cho is even five to ten times higher than the numbers of news related to social issues such as monopoly of state affairs by South Korean Government led by President Park Gun-hye and even similar example such as former Minister Hwang Kyo-an of Ministry of Justice.
◊Search volume differs depending on timing and keyword
Some say that determining the number of news based on a search volume of a portal site is wrong from the premise. This is because a collection of data gathered by a search engine can differ depending on timing and keyword.
“Total collection of documents indexed by our search engine changes periodically and there can be a difference between the numbers of documents collected before the index updating period and after the index updating period.” said a representative for Naver. “We also cache (temporarily storing data into a server) search results from our users for the purpose of making search more effective and there can be a difference in results that are cached depending on timing.”
In other words, there can be a difference in the numbers of documents depending on the timing of search. It is heard that 800 news affiliates of Naver have different timing from each other on when their news are made public through Naver. This is why it is very difficult to directly compare a case from the past to a current case.
Results can also be different depending on a keyword. When ‘Cho Kuk’ was searched on Naver on the 19th, there were at least 1.77 million related news. It seems that Naver searched every news that has the keyword ‘Cho Kuk’ in it. When Minister Cho Kuk and Minister Cho Kuk of Ministry of Justice searched, at least 1.38 million news and 770,000 news came up respectively. Depending on timing, there can be a difference of 10,000 to 100,000 news on a given keyword.
It can be possible to think that simply quantifying search volume is meaningless. When Minister Cho Kuk of Ministry of Justice was searched on Google at 4:30 PM on the 19th, 13.4 million news came up. This number is 10 times more than the number of news that came up on Naver and its arithmetic value means nothing.
According to news search system called BIG KINDS operated by Korea Press Foundation, there were only 3,458 news that were searched as ‘Minister Cho Kuk of Ministry of Justice’ for a month since the 19th of June. News that are written by South Korean press can be searched up to 1990 through BIG KINDS.
Naver stated through its announcement that was held on the 6th that its news service is irrelevant to current controversy surrounding keywords involving Cho Kuk.
“For about an hour between 10:30 AM and 11:30 AM, search results on news when keywords were entered on our Naver News’ search tab did not operate properly time to time.” said Naver while apologizing through its announcement.

Naver’s Headquarters in Bundang (Source: The Electronic Times) <Naver’s Headquarters in Bundang (Source: The Electronic Times)>

◊Political circle carrying out almost ‘illogical’ attacks towards news platforms
It was not just yesterday when Naver’s services are used as materials to target South Korean politics. After Naver had gone through D_ruking incident last year, it handed over a function to edit news as well as comments to South Korean press. It also deleted news that come up on the first screen of its mobile application. This contrasts how Google started putting out edited news on the first screen around the same time.
Naver has also been criticized for real-time search word with a sudden rise. The opposing party attacked Naver for the fact that supporters of Minister Cho Kuk gave Minister Cho encouragement while using real-time search word with a sudden rise and conducted a push poll. The opposing party complained that Naver was letting Minister Cho’s supporters to manipulate real-time search word with a sudden rise. Regardless of the opposing parties, there have been more attacks towards internet service companies.
Naver states that its principle is not to deal with real-time search word with a sudden rise unless there are special conditions such as defamation of character or obscenity. According to Korea Internet Self-governance Organization, expressing encouragement towards a specific person is not an exemption for dealing with real-time search word with a sudden rise.
“Although there have been side-effects such as using real-time search word with a sudden rise as a marketing method recently, its function is still the same as a means to look at how public opinions are developing.” said a representative for South Korea’s internet industry. “It is illogical to say that it is manipulation when real-time search words with a sudden rise are tampered with and negligence when real-time search words with a sudden rise are left alone.”
As the general election is set to take place next year, there is a need for the political circle to step up and take care of current mess. “Foreign portal sites such as Google and Baidu also provide news service and real-time search word with a sudden rise service.” said Professor Sung Dong-kyu of Chung-Ang University’s Media Communication Department. “Reason why there are attacks towards news services of South Korean portal sites by the politics only in South Korea is because the opposing parties and their supporters are using portal sites as a means to divide parties.” Professor Sung is saying that the political circle is largely responsible for current mess.
“It is also necessary for internet service companies to take actions to temporarily cool off excessive interests.” said Professor Sung.
Staff Reporter Kim, Siso | siso@etnews.com

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