Confessions of Paid Political Trolls in South Korea

One of the open secrets of South Korea's political landscape is that people are hired to hijack the comment sections of online posts. These hired commenters, or political “trolls,” copy-and-paste slanderous messages that have been created by their team leaders and post them on major online platforms; more skilled trolls conjure up original vicious comments all by themselves. Both have one political purpose: to warp the public discussion in favor of the party.

Trolling since 2004

The initial revelation of professional commenters was made by bloggers who tracked down several Internet trolls [ko] who often posted the exact same comments praising one party while trashing others. It turned out all these comments, even though written by different IDs, shared the same IP address, an address assigned to the ruling Grand National Party (now Saenuri Party) building in Yeido, Seoul.

That was back in 2004, now this has evolved into a much more sophisticated system. But few whistle-blowers warn the public of the political powerhouse manipulation by confessing details of the paid-commenter system.

Although almost all major political parties and corporations are believe to hire commenters, the latest confessions were mostly made by former trolls from the ruling conservative Saenuri Party, a party notorious for numerous allegations and bribery cases. Below is a translation of one of the most widely-shared confession posts.

The confession

A user ID: HELP, who introduced himself as a 26-year-old male in Seoul struggling to find a job, allegedly wrote this post [ko]. Although the original link was extremely hard to locate, the screen capture image of his post can be found easily around the web, in same form. He said he worked as a part-time commenter for the Saeunir Party for several months:


Image by Flickr user marsmet501 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

제가 이 글을 올리는 이유는 여러분은 지금 여론 선동에 놀아나고 계신다는 걸 알려드리기 위해서입니다 […] 처음 3개월간은 수습으로 뜁니다. 수습 알리미는 시급 2500원이죠.. 물론 피시방 값은 대주지만 하루 종일 해 봤자 밥 시켜먹고, 담배값 하고 이러다 보면 교통비 밖에 안나옵니다. 3개월 지나면 정식으로 채용되는데 그러면 시급 3700원은 받습니다 점차 지나면서 월급이 늘어나구요. 특히 선거철 같은 때는 보너스 수당도 줍니다. 나름 짭짤하죠. 원래 처음에는 한나라당 당사에서 하는데 옛날에 ip 걸려서 요새는 피시방에서 유동 아이피 써가면서 주기적으로 옮겨서 하거든요 여의도 주변 피시방 돌면서 하는데 […]

The reason why I am posting this is to let you know that you are being manipulated […] The first three months is the probation period. Our hourly rate starts at 2,500 Korean Won (USD 2.3). They (the party) would pay for (computer and Internet use at) the PC room [note: Korean gaming cafe], but since we spend our money on buying meals and cigarettes, even after working a full-day, we barely covered our commuter expense. But once you complete the probation period and are officially hired, then they pay you more; 3700 Korean won (3.4 USD) per hour and this keeps increasing. And you will get bonuses during the election season. It is not a bad salary (for a part-time work). Initially, we used to work at the party building at Yeido, but after our IP address was revealed, we now use PC rooms around the area, using temporary IP addresses, regularly shifting locations[…]

보통 다음이나 네이버 이런 포털 사이트 뉴스에 댓글 일정 정도를 할당해 줍니다 뉴스 사이트에 글 올리는 조도 있구요 […] 무조건 노빠 빨갱이 절라치 이런식으로 몰아붙이라고 조장이 가르쳐주더군요 여럿이서 퍼부어대면 염증 느끼고 도망가거나 제풀에 포기한다고[…]

Some of us will be dispatched to Daum news, others Naver's news page [note: Daum and Naver are two of the biggest portal sites in South Korea] and there are teams sent to specific news sites. Our team leader told us to put down the opposition by name-calling them the (former President) Roh’s suckers or Jeolla-chi [note: an offensive new way of calling people living in Jeolla Province. The province is known for being loyal supporters of the Democratic party for decades]. They told me that when you bombard people with these offensive terms, people will feel disgusted and leave the page and are discouraged to comment any more. […]

The net user who uploaded the screen capture image of this confession has done some digging into this whistle-blower's web records and confirmed [ko], by attaching images, that there have been several thousand posts this whistle-blower posted in one active forum site for past five months, all ridden with defamatory comments on the deceased former President Roh while lauding the current ruling party.

Last year, right after Seoul's Mayoral by-election, a commenter ID: xodu**** came out clean and apologized [ko] to a liberal candidate, now new mayor of Seoul for slandering him, often as an enemy-loving, pro-North Korea socialist.

The trolling business

A recent report even reveals [ko] that the monthly payment of the commenters, when working full-time, can be as much 1 million Korean Won (a little less than USD 920), which each comment costing about 200 Korean Won (about a cent). The report added most of them are groups desperately seeking part-time jobs, including college students, recent-graduates battered by the harsh job market, and stay-at-home moms seeking to make extra money while staying at home.

Recent Twitter comments show the trend of public trust rapidly evaporating as almost all major online public forums have been tainted by these hired commenters. @yahoo3333's commented [ko].

정치 관련 기사에 댓글들은 알바가 쓴거 같아서 믿어야 할지 믿지 말아야 할지 고민되네.

Every comment made under political news seems like it is written by a hired commenter. I cannot make up my mind whether to trust them.

Some Twitterers, such as @rlawoci, even mockingly thanked [ko] the Saenuri party for reportedly hiring part-time commenters and thereby creating new jobs and lowering the young unemployment rate.


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