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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 14)

All Headlines 07:07 November 14, 2017

Naver's problems
Biggest portal churns out fake, unvetted news

In choosing hospitals or private educational institutes, people usually search articles written by those who have had experience at these facilities before. Frequently, they will find these articles on Naver, Korea's largest portal operator.

It has just been discovered that most of these "experience stories" were fake information manufactured by business enterprises and advertising agencies.

The Seoul District Prosecutor's Office Friday booked three people who had opened about 70,000 Naver accounts with "cloned cellphones" and sold them to ad agencies for around 260 million won (US$233,600), while prosecuting 48 people at 22 companies who committed "fake marketing" with these accounts.

In September last year, law enforcement officers ferreted out a group of people who rigged the rankings of the internet hit list on Naver, and this September, the prosecution clamped down on those who forged the list of the most searched ads. The alarming thing about this is that the internet portals, including Naver, are showing signs of becoming hotbeds for false information and fake news.

A recent series of articles in some of the vernacular newspapers suggests portals, which are supposed to serve as the distributive channel of information, have been reduced to "second manufacturing bases" that amplify fake news.

The latest case in point was the controversial fake story about the driver of "No. 240 Bus," who allegedly let a child off his vehicle and then kept running with his wailing mother aboard. The falsified news about the "heartless driver" became the talk of the town through social networking services and portals, publicly ostracizing an innocent man who just tried to be faithful to his profession.

The episode is but one example that demonstrates how the internet portals are allowed to distort the truth and deceive consumers entirely free of all controlling mechanisms.

The Economist, a London-based weekly newspaper, pointed out in a recent issue the most significant threat facing political leaders throughout the world is "fake news. " Even in America, which puts freedom of the press ahead of all else, the U.S. Senate Standing Committee passed a law last week which permits judicial authorities to prosecute internet sites that distribute posts involved in the sex trade. Germany, too, implemented a law beginning last month that obligates SNS platform companies to monitor and erase fake news.

The trends in these countries illustrate their governments have decided not to let internet portals and search engines, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to play the role of a breeding ground for sex trafficking and fake news.

The situation in Korea is as serious as -- if not more than -- Western Europe or North America, given that a "dinosaur portal" named Naver is all but monopolizing the domestic market and holds sway on public opinion.

The time is long past for the government to revise the Information and Communication Law to directly hold internet portals accountable for the spreading of fake news.

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