PM orders measures to prevent public opinion manipulation on web portals

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo on Wednesday ordered South Korea's Cabinet to set up a pan-governmental task force to prevent "fake news" from "manipulating public opinion."

The government, based on an estimate by the state-run media watchdog, the Korea Communications Commission, suspects that two foreign internet users left 20 million reactions cheering for the Chinese soccer team within a few hours on an online forum dedicated to the men's soccer match between South Korea and China in Sunday's quarterfinals at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.

Both Daum and Naver block access from China for certain functions, but the users used IP addresses in the Netherlands and Japan, and activated an algorithm to repeat a set of actions with extremely high frequency, according to officials.

The call came after the ruling party raised concerns over the unusually high number of clicks in support of the Chinese soccer team during the match on Sunday, saying that failing to address such internet trolling activities might make web portals vulnerable to election-interference attempts in the future.

The ruling People Power Party, as well as the presidential office, pointed to anomalies in the number of online fans cheering for the Chinese national team on Korean web portal Daum's public forum, as the internet space is typically dominated by Koreans.

The same day, Lee Jong-bae, a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council affiliated with the ruling People Power Party, accused unidentified sock puppet accounts on Daum's public forum of interfering with business by causing interruptions in data processing. While filing the criminal complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office at 2 p.m., Lee said any attempt to manipulate public opinion through computer-powered mechanisms with malicious intentions is a criminal act.