By Lee Suh-yoon
Two out of five Koreans cannot tell fake news apart from the real thing, a survey showed Wednesday.
In a recent joint survey of online video consumption by Rep. Kim Sung-soo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the Green Consumer Network in Korea, 1,000 respondents were shown trending news content on YouTube and asked to identify the information as fake or real news.
The average correct answer rate came out at 58.5 percent, showing two out of five people did not properly distinguish between the real and fake news in various fields including politics, the economy and other social issues.
One of the highest number of incorrect responses came from a video that claimed China had deleted Korean music charts from all its online portals after the dispute over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) deployment ― 53 percent responded the fake news was true.
Ironically, most of the respondents, or 93.2 percent, self-evaluated themselves to be "above average" in identifying fake news.
"As more and more information is being shared in real-time on mobile platforms, it's becoming more difficult to distinguish fake news," the lawmaker said. "Apart from better regulation of fake news, we first need more education that gets people thinking about the proper function of media."
Almost 80 percent of the respondents in the survey said YouTube was their main medium for video content, not just celebrity gossip or sports games but also for current affairs. The second most popular channel was Naver, the nation's biggest search portal.
Though YouTube is becoming an increasingly important channel for news consumption in Korea, a lack of regulation and accountability has made it a breeding ground for fake news.
Many fake news videos target the more conservative elderly population, with their links distributed through KakaoTalk chatrooms.
A recent report by the Hankyoreh showed that a conservative protestant group called Esther Prayer Movement systematically produced and disseminated a torrent of fake news videos designed to fan Islamophobic sentiments with titles like "100 percent of rape in Norway committed by migrants" or "Preferential treatment for halal food production facility." These videos were widely shared during the heated national debate on the influx of Yemeni asylum seekers to Jeju Island.
Other widely known examples of fake news on far-right YouTube channels include assertions that a tablet PC, the key evidence in the massive corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye, was manipulated, and claims that Korea has been listed as a particularly vulnerable nation to AIDS in a video denouncing same-sex marriage.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon declared war against fake news last week, calling it a "destroyer of democracy" that spreads false information about individuals and national security issues, including inter-Korean relations.
Amid this firm tone, the police cracked down on 37 different cases of fake news over the past month, focusing on the ones that have been crafted with malicious intent and spread in a systematic manner.
The efforts, however, are not enough to visibly stymie fake news on the internet.
"Despite the special crackdown period on fake news every year, the problem seems to be worsening due to the proliferation of one-person media and communication platforms," National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gap-ryong said in a press briefing, Monday.