Friday, August 12, 2022

Propaganda is spreading beyond the realm of espionage to become a shadowy industry – lessons from South Korea

Propaganda, the practice of mixing real and fake information with the goal of deceiving the government or influencing public opinion, has its origins in the Soviet Union. But propaganda is no longer the exclusive domain of government intelligence agencies.

Today’s propaganda scene has evolved into a marketplace in which services are contracted, workers are paid and shameless opinions and fake readers are bought and sold. This industry is emerging around the world. Some private sector players are motivated by political motives, some by profit and others by a mixture of both.

Public relations firms have recruited social media influencers in France and Germany to spread lies. Politicians have hired employees to create fake Facebook accounts in Honduras. And Kenyan Twitter influencers are paid 15 times more in a day than many people for promoting political hashtags. Researchers from the University of Oxford tracked government-sponsored propaganda activities in 81 countries and private-sector propaganda in 48 countries.

South Korea has been at the forefront of online propaganda. Western societies began to express concern about propaganda in 2016 due to propaganda related to the 2016 US presidential election and Brexit. But in South Korea, the media reported the first formal propaganda crackdown in 2008. As a researcher who studies digital audiences, I have found that South Korea’s 13-year long propaganda history demonstrates how technology, economics and culture interact to enable the propaganda industry. ,

Most importantly, South Korea’s experience offers a lesson for the US and other countries. The ultimate power of propaganda is found more in the thoughts and memories to which society is sensitive and how prone it is to the spreaders of the rumours than in the people spreading the rumours or the techniques they use.

From dirty politics to dirty business

The origins of South Korean propaganda can be traced back to the country’s National Intelligence Service, which is the equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The NIS formed teams in 2010 to interfere in domestic elections by attacking a political candidate it opposed.

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NIS hired more than 70 full-time employees who managed fake, or so-called sock puppet, accounts. The agency recruited a group called Team Alpha, which was made up of civilian part-time people with ideological and financial interests in working for the NIS. By 2012, the scale of the operation had grown to 3,500 part-time workers.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) campaigned in 2014 for Kim Kyung-soo (right), who became governor of South Gyeongsang province in 2018, but was later convicted of opinion rigging.
Udenjan/WikiCommons, CC BY

Since then the private sector has entered the business of propaganda. For example, an obscure publishing company led by an influential blogger was involved in a high-profile opinion-rigging scandal between 2016 and 2018. The company’s client was a close political ally of the current chairman, Moon Jae-in.

Unlike the propaganda campaigns run by the NIS, which use propaganda as a propaganda tool for the government, some of the private sector players are like chameleons, changing ideological and topical positions in pursuit of their commercial interests. These private sector operations have achieved greater cost-effectiveness than government operations, efficiently using bots to increase fake engagement, involving social media entrepreneurs such as YouTubers and outsource trolling to cheap labourers. has gone.

Narratives That Strike a Nerve

In South Korea, Cold War rhetoric is especially visible in all kinds of propaganda work. Campaigns usually portray the conflict with North Korea and the fight against communism as the focus of public discourse in South Korea. In fact, nationwide elections have painted a very different picture. For example, even when North Korea’s nuclear threat peaked in 2017, less than 10 percent of respondents chose North Korea’s saber-rattling as their priority, compared to more than 45 percent who chose economic policy. .

Political propaganda in South Korea has promoted anti-communist nationalism in all manner of priesthood and techniques and has discredited the country’s lax diplomacy towards North Korea. My research on South Korean social media rumors in 2013 revealed that propaganda continued on social media even after the formal disinformation campaign ended, which indicates how powerful these topics are. Even today, my research team and I continue to see references to similar topics.

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A man standing on stage tears a flag holding a microphone
Much of the propaganda smuggled into South Korea consists of nationalist anti-communist narratives that are similar to the protester’s anti-North Korean message.
Photo by Jung Yeon-jae / AFP via Getty Images

The Dangers of a Disinformation Industry

The disinformation industry is enabled by three aspects of today’s digital media industry: an attention economy, algorithmic and computational technologies, and a participatory culture. In online media, the most important currency is the attention of the audience. Metrics such as number of page views, likes, shares and comments measure attention, which is then turned into economic and social capital.

Ideally, these metrics should be the product of spontaneous and voluntary participation of networked users. By using bots, hiring influencers, paying for crowdsourcing, and developing computational tricks to game the platform’s algorithms, misinformation operates more often than not building these metrics.

The expansion of the disinformation industry is troubling because it distorts how public opinion is perceived by researchers, the media, and the public. Historically, democracy has relied on elections to sway public opinion. Despite their limitations, nationwide polls conducted by credible organizations such as Gallup and Pew Research follow rigorous methodological standards to represent the distribution of opinion in society as representative as possible.

Public discourse on social media has emerged as an alternative means of assessing public opinion. Digital audience and web traffic analytical tools are widely available to measure trends in online discourse. However, people can be misled when advocates of misinformation creator opinion are expressed online and incorrectly inflate metrics about opinion.

Meanwhile, the persistence of anti-communist nationalist narratives in South Korea suggests that the rhetoric choices of dissidents are not random. To combat the propaganda industry wherever it emerges, governments, the media and the public need to understand not only who and how, but also what constitutes society’s controversial ideologies and collective memories. These propaganda are the most valuable currency in the market.

[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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