SEOUL, Apr. 10 (Korea Bizwire) — With local elections on the horizon, South Korea is making all-out efforts to root out fake news, with both the government and online platforms implementing changes and cracking down on questionable content.
Speaking at the Korea Press Center last Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, acknowledged the serious threat fake news poses to the credibility of news as a whole, saying, “Not only is the management of newspapers at stake, but also our trust in them.”
Lee’s comment on Newspaper Day in South Korea highlights the nation’s recent moves to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. in fighting fake news and fending off its possible political influence.
War on fake news
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) and the Korea Internet & Security Agency are ramping up monitoring efforts for the next three months, targeting exchanges of social media and web portal accounts.
Kim Jae-young, director of user policies at the KCC, says the move comes amid speculation that more fake news will be shared and illegal election campaign tactics adopted through fake online accounts.
Bulk sales of fake online accounts are on the rise in South Korea, accounts that are bought to help advertise products and services, to manipulate the ranking algorithms of search engines, and promote illegal activities such as prostitution.
The number of illegal exchanges of online accounts rose from 5,061 in 2015 to 8,956 in 2017.
Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Science and ICT held an artificial intelligence R&D challenge contest last year, with fake news as the main theme.
During the competition, groups of contestants used word embedding and deep learning technology to identify fake news.
Tech giants in solidarity
Major web portal Naver has joined the fight against fake news, following criticism over its lax rules that critics have accused of undermining the government’s anti-fake news efforts.
Naver’s new terms and conditions will from next month ban the use of automation software across all of its services, including signing up, logging in, leaving comments and even using the search engine.
“We have specified and banned the use of automation software like macro programs in response to the abusive use of our services,” Naver said last week.
Messaging giant Kakao is also set to take similar steps late this month, making it possible for the company’s monitoring team to delete comments that are identified as fake news.
Though spreading fake news in order to smear someone or ruin their reputation is illegal in South Korea, information and communications service providers offering online platforms didn’t bear any responsibility.
Under the new change brought by the KCC, however, online platforms that fail to cooperate in tackling fake news could face investigations and even shutdowns.
A report from last year on fake news from the Hyundai Research Institute estimated annual damages caused by fake news on South Korea to be a total of 30.9 trillion won, accounting for 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP in 2015 (1.56 quadrillion won).
The weaponization of fake news
Indicted former President Lee Myung-bak, who could face jail time over corruption charges, is accused of being involved in a fake news operation to smear celebrities with opposing political views.
The National Intelligence Service was found to have had plans to weaponize fake news against a number of liberal celebrities while the now disgraced former president was in office, spreading unsubstantiated rumors of drug use and fake nude images across the web, according to an investigation by a special task force launched by the current administration last year.
The ongoing investigation by the fact-finding committee operating under the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism into Lee’s possible responsibility in a fake news smear campaign is set to continue until late this month.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)