Opinion-Rigging Scandal Rattles Cheong Wa Dae

  • By Yoon Hyung-jun, Park Sang-ki

    April 19, 2018 13:07

    A deepening opinion-rigging scandal is testing the limits of what is and is not permissible in an online political campaign in Korea.

    A group led by a power-blogger calling himself "Druking" made no secret of its ardent support for Moon Jae-in when he was running for president last year, but there are increasing suspicions that the blurry line into illegality was crossed.

    What is certain is that first lady Kim Jung-sook met with members of the group during the campaign to cheer them on. The group, whose name roughly translates as "People Should be the Focus of Economic Policies," posted a short video clip on YouTube last August showing the moment in April last year when Kim headed over to shake hands with members of the group during a rally despite attempts by bodyguards to stop her.

    A key Cheong Wa Dae official said the first lady "did not have prior knowledge of the group, but merely acknowledged them after seeing their banner at a rally." But key members of Moon's election camp were certainly aware of its existence.

    By her side in the clip is Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo, who has become a focal point of the scandal. The lawmaker early this week admitted that Druking repeatedly made personnel recommendations to Cheong Wa Dae once Moon was in office. He claimed no nepotism was involved since they were simply suggestions.

    Kim also admitted that he had known Druking since mid-2016, visited the blogger's publishing firm that autumn and met him again before Moon's presidential primary.

    Kim Jung-sook (left) greets members of a support group created by blogger Druking at a rally for her husband, then-presidential candidate Moon Jae-in in Gwangju in March 2017. Behind her is lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo. /Yonhap

    The group was formed by Moon supporters in September of 2016 with the aim of launching a major online campaign for him, and has around 1,000 members.

    Druking, whose real surname is Kim, referred to them on his blog as "comrades who stood with me during the regional and presidential elections."

    But Druking has since turned against the government, possibly because it ignored his recommendations, and has been indicted for using an algorithm to artificially boost online comments critical of Moon.

    It seems that many of Druking's 2,500 followers were also members of the support group, all boosting each other's comments in favor of Moon. They were certainly ardent in their partisanship. "Carrying the shame of failing to protect [former] President Roh Moo-hyun," who was Moon's mentor, they wrote, "we traveled to all of the election campaign venues from Gwangju, Daejeon, Busan to Seoul to protect candidate Moon Jae-in."

    Roh committed suicide amid a corruption investigation in 2009.

    The group trawled the web to counter negative online comments about Moon, which is no crime, but also artificially boosted clicks on articles favoring Moon and clicking thumbs-down buttons on articles that painted him in a negative light.

    Group members swiftly shared URL addresses of news articles that could be used to post positive comments, and Druking himself then shared comments on his blog about them with other followers. This is where the campaign becomes murky, and why the National Election Commission asked prosecutors to investigate the blogger.

    An instruction manual allegedly created by Druking tells members not to post articles related to that part of their campaign on his blog, which raises suspicions that he both knew that he was getting into murky waters and wanted to control the campaign from behind the scenes.

    Cheong Wa Dae first acknowledged the scandal on Wednesday. Presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters, "We expect prosecutors and the police to reveal the truth behind the allegations."

    But Cheong Wa Dae insists that it is also a victim of Druking's maneuvers and accused the opposition of mudslinging before it has been proven that any illegal manipulation occurred.

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