October 11, 2018 12:44
Korea's largest online portal Naver will stop showing news headlines and real-time top search keywords on its mobile homepage in a bid to dodge criticism that it is manipulating public opinion.
Naver CEO Han Seong-sook said at a company event in Seoul on Wednesday, "We will no longer edit and post seven news articles on the homepage of the Naver mobile app."
The move flies in the face of the ingrained habits of many users who access the portal for their daily dose of news and is expected to happen before the end of this year.
A senior Naver staffer said, "This is the biggest change since the establishment of Naver, which relied on the supply of news. Internally, there are concerns that traffic will plummet."
Naver currently selects news from different media and places them in arbitrary order on its service pages, drawing criticism for becoming a de facto news provider itself.
Once the change has been made, the mobile app homepage will only show the search engine and weather information. To access the news, users will have to switch to another page, which they can edit to select media outlets they want.
This will free Naver from criticism that it is trying to manipulate public opinion by selecting which news articles get pride of place. Naver will also show the rankings of the most searched words on a separate page.
"We've been showing the most popular word searches based on data from all users, but from now on we will use data from only registered users." The aim is to prevent bots from boosting certain search words for advertising and other purposes.
The changes were triggered by the opinion-rigging scandal surrounding power blogger Druking, who used the Naver platform to manipulate online comments in the lead-up to last year's presidential election.
But critics say the changes at Naver are not enough. They say Naver has left unchanged its policy for comments under news articles, which are the main tool used by manipulators to sway public opinion. It will also not provide outlinks despite demands from news providers.
Noh Dong-ryul at Sungshin Women's University said, "The basic structure of Naver distributing news remains unchanged, so there is still a chance of manipulating public opinion."
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