‘Fake News’ and the Korean Elections

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis at his swearing-in on Jan. 27 (Official Department of Defense photo)

“I am so worried that if the left wins in the election, the U.S. will withdraw its forces from South Korea, and then the U.S. will attack North Korea.”

Lee, who lives in Flushing, was surprised to receive the message from an acquaintance on Kakao Talk [a free mobile instant messaging application for smartphones used by many Koreans]. Lee believed the fake news report that U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, on a recent visit to Japan, delivered a message from President Trump that “if the left wins in South Korea, we will withdraw U.S. forces from Korea.’”

Lee said: “In the Kakao Talk message, there was a link to Japanese news. So I thought it was real. I can’t distinguish between fake news and real news, because dozens of news items are sent every day.”

With the 19th presidential elections coming up in South Korea, a lot of fake news has spread throughout the Korean community in New York.

The Kakao Talk messages sent by Korean friends spread quickly and illegally to hundreds of Koreans in New York through group chat rooms. Some Koreans, who are indifferent to the news from Korea, aren’t able to recognize fake news and false facts about the politics of their home country.

Recently, there have been a number of cases that slander a specific candidate and distribute fake news. The problem is that Koreans residing abroad can be punished if they are caught sending fake news. [Editor’s note: If the person who has distributed false information is a U.S. citizen, the National Election Commission will not permit them to enter Korea. If the person is a Korean citizen, they may be subject to a fine or imprisonment.]

The current election law strictly limits campaigning outside Korea. The National Election Commission punishes the act of transmitting false facts about a specific candidate and that candidate’s spouse by text message. The commission has accused a Korean voter in Brazil last month of using incorrect information to criticize a presidential candidate via a private broadcasting channel. [That case has not yet been resolved.] The Korean Consulate General in New York operates a branch of the Overseas Voting National Election Commission on the fourth floor of its building here.

Dongchoon Kim, a member of the National Election Commission in the Korean Consulate General in New York, warned: “Although it is possible to support the candidates through the use of Kakao Talk, it is a violation of the election law if they distribute false facts and slander against a specific candidate.”

One Comment

  1. Steven Huh says:

    Fake news is not partisan to one side only. PD Notebook, when it was on MBC during the Lee Myung-bak presidency, reported on the imminent contagion of Mad Cow Disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE) spreading across Korea from US imported meats. This was Raison d’être for the massive candle-light vigils opposing the free trade agreement (US Korea FTA) about to go through after years of negotiations, started by the Roh Moo-hyun administration, but about to be concluded by the then current Lee Myung-bak presidency. All the while, Americans were enjoying the nice cuts of beef from US butchers and grocery markets without reports of any outbreak of Mad Cow Disease or any such foolery in the US news. I was shocked at the massive numbers of people from all walks of life protesting the import of US beef because of such fear for death by Mad Cow. Sohn Suk-Hee, when he was at MBC and now as he heads up JTBC, reports without much verification on quite a lot of unfounded “news.” Years later, we will know the truth about what really happened with the Park Geun-Hye administration: with months of investigations and news vetting, they still didn’t find any personal profiting in such “bribery” in her establishment of Mir and K Sports foundations. But, calling her soliciting donations to such foundations bribery sets a dangerous precedent in that Korean industrialists will point to this debacle in their contributing such donations leading to their prosecution as precedent for declining any support of future Korean sports endeavors. The senior Lee Kun-Hee to the now incarcerated Lee Jae-Yong had been the leading benefactor to Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympics bid and now the junior Lee for its roll out and implementation. I doubt he will have any stomach to go through with such sponsorship anymore. Other Korean conglomerates can only look on and read the writing on the wall. There will be backlash to such concerted effort to topple the Park presidency. Margret Thatcher too was toppled after going after the coal miners’ union and privatizing massive state corporations. Park did the same to weaken the massive umbrella labor unions KCTU and FKTU, and now look at her. Tragic really and quite undeserved.

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