The Internet portals that retain a unique role in Korea's online world are dragging their heels amid an online opinion-rigging scandal and a global uproar over the spread of "fake news" on the web.
Naver and Daum, the two top portals, remain helpless against online opinion-rigging tactics like "macro," or using computer programs to boost the number of clicks on a particular article, and "coordinate sharing," or swiftly passing on the URLs of articles and websites favorable to a group's opinion to boost clicks and "likes."
Last month, Naver came up with steps like limiting the number of comments to three per ID on one article and making it impossible to post more than one comment within 60 seconds. But no measures were taken to deal with coordinate sharing, and it is still possible to use macro programs to sway opinions.
Potential opinion-riggers simply have to create multiple IDs to bypass the restrictions, which is still extremely easy. At present it only costs W900 to purchase an Internet ID to use for one day for hacking attacks and around W30,000 for an ID usable for up to a month (US$1=W1,079).
That means 10 fake online IDs cost W10,000. One Internet company staffer said, "The fact that it is still possible to post comments using fake IDs shows how shoddy Naver's social media policies are."
The uproar was sparked by revelations that a power-blogger calling himself "Druking" posted 20,000 comments in January alone, while manipulating online opinion by using macro programs to post 2.1 million "likes" and "dislikes" on articles.
The blogger has been under police investigation on the suspicion that he tried to manipulate online opinion by running automated software that boosted online comments critical of President Moon Jae-in.
The matter only blew up because Druking had been an ardent supporter of Moon until he turned against the administration, apparently thwarted in attempts to meddle in government appointments. This has given way to revelations that Drunking was engaged in opinion rigging during the presidential election.
There are increasing calls for tougher laws against online slander or fake news on the Internet since only one court ruling has found an Internet portal responsible.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered Daum and Naver to pay W30 million to a plaintiff for failing to deal with malicious comments being posted on their websites. The presiding judge said portals have a responsibility to delete or block potentially libelous comments even if the individual on the receiving end does not request their removal.
Such legal precedents are gaining traction overseas. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found Estonian portal Delfi responsible for malicious online comments since traffic to them affects visitor trends, which in turn influence ad revenues. South Africa holds portals wholly responsible for comments posted under news articles.
Cyber security industry insiders say Naver must have known about Druking's activities if they occurred on such a scale. Naver has invested increasingly in preventing macro manipulation by gambling or pornographic site operators over the past decade.
One former Naver programmer said, "How could Naver have been unaware of these activities when it was capable of almost completely stemming macro manipulation of comments that drew fierce complaints from users?"
But a Naver staffer said, "It's difficult to detect and screen lengthy comments containing no suspicious keywords. We were unaware of the Druking scandal."
Naver CEO Han Seong-sook in a press conference on Wednesday said that the portal will stop editing news articles and listing them on the front page and instead provide outlinks. It will also share information about ad revenues and readers with media outlets.
Naver, one of the two top portal in Korea.