Who are those beautiful women?

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in on Jan. 10, 2012, reporting a suspicion that some companies (including a newspaper company) or some social groups, especially those of conservative sphere, are trying to manipulate public opinion on Twitter by generating fake ids and employ them as a tool for propaganda. Internet has become integral part in shaping public opinion in Korea and web portals have worked as main conduits for that. However, due to the fierce campaign from the conservative sphere, their role as a channel to gauge or shape public opinion is almost lost by now. Because of that, Twitter has taken up the role of free exchange of political opinions recently in Korea despite the existence of numerous web portals and bulletin boards for exchange of ideas and opinions. But, the conservative sphere still tries to devise a scheme to manipulate public opinion that circulates in Twitter as this post illustrates. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original article or with and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institutions / positions to their authentic ones as much as I can but, inevitably, some of them may be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

Who are those beautiful women that spread Chosun Ilbo news articles?

A graphic that tracked employed users of Chosun Ilbo. (by @planner95)

Analysis of employed user ids who retwitted articles about ‘Hana Finance’ or ‘Chosun Ilbo’

An id calling herself a high school girl posted comments only about ‘Hana Finance’

They start posting at 10AM but do not post after 6PM

Are there really twitter users employed for special purposes or not? This has been the sizzling topic among netizens recently. Since the revelation of ‘Chosun Ilbo-bot’ (a twitter id that automatically retwits twitter messages from Chosun Ilbo), netizens are actually chasing the reality of employed posters. actually analyzed the employed user ids and additionally identified the circumstance that Hana Finance Group was systematically responding to twitterians’ public opinion.

They retwitted Chosun Ilbo articles … at the same time on the same day with the same sentences

One netizen (@planner95) discovered a group of twitter ids that disseminated articles with same sentences at the same time on the same day. He found out that tens of ids such as @wer5255, @jungdairy, @audvnatlrrl, @akdlfflwl, @gotrhkdlf, @danyawoo5, @lovetoday78 were retwitting a Chosun Ilbo article on ‘DDoS attack at Central Election Management Commission scandal’ at the same time. The time stamps of their postings were the same: 3:27AM on Dec. 5.

All put young women pictures on their profiles and used the same TwitterFeed application, a web application program that enables scheduled postings as well as multi-id simulcast of the same message, for their twits.

We assume there must have been hundreds of such ids, but most of them are closed now from netizens’ continued denunciations after the exposure of their existence to the public.

It is not clear whether these ids were managed or employed by Chosun Ilbo. But, netizens suspect those ids must have had something to do with Chosun Ilbo since it was the newspaper company itself that would have benefitted from the mass circulation of Chosun Ilbo articles.

Chosun Ilbo bluntly denied any suspicions of employed twitter users. An official of Chosun Ilbo Management Planning Team, in a phone call with , said “those ids have nothing to do with Chosun Ilbo. We don’t know why there are ids like them. To our question if they had any intention to ask those ids not to automatically retwit Chosun Ilbo articles, they replied “we don’t feel to do that.”

We asked an interview to an id ‘@wer5255’(Ji-yeon Kim) suspected to be employed by Chosun Ilbo. She introduced herself as “a university student who fell deep into idols” in her profile but her twitter time line was filled only with Chosun Ilbo articles. She didn’t follow any idol stars but followed people like conservative commentator Gab-je Cho and a Grand National Party representative Ok-im Jeong. She did not respond to our interview request.

Twitter ids that keep posting messages advertising Hana Finance Group

Besides Chosun Ilbo, we frequently witnessed twitter messages that were suspected to have been from users employed by Hana Finance Group. About 100 fake Twitter ids were incessantly posting advertising messages of Hana Finance Group. In particular, they kept on twitting messages favorable to Hana Finance who was waging a war on public opinion against Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) union on the issue of KEB take-over. They were posting messages adverse to KEB union who objected to KEB take-over by Hana Finance Group.

Mainly, when users like ‘@Dooribig’(Doo-ri Kim), ‘@Doorismall’(Mi-ok Jeong) posted messages, about 100 other users were retwitting them. Though Doo-ri Kim and Mi-ok Jeong were different persons, they shared many facts in common; they opened their ids the same day, on Nov. 17, and posted their first messages by referring to the same article “Selling order to Hana Finance is a momentum for stock price rally” of an internet news agency.

A twitter user ‘@lotto145’ introduced herself as an 18-year-old girl but her mind was totally absorbed by Hana Finance.

Twitter messages 
by ‘@lotto145’

These users put pictures of beautiful women or scenery on their profiles. Another user ‘@lotto145’(A-reum Han) opened her account on Dec. 21. Putting a picture of a girl with long straight hairs for her profile, she described herself as an 18-year-old 2nd grade high school student. When ‘@Doorismall’ posted an article, “Chairman Seung-yoo Kim of Hana Financial Group, I don’t think we will fail the KEB take-over,” on Jan. 6, she retwitted this message and said “the contract between Hana Financial Group and Lone Star expires at the end of Feb., right?” To a message “Federation of Korean Trade Unions will block KEB take-over by Hana Financial Group” by ‘@Dooribig’, she worried “Politicians and unions joined forces? OMG. How on earth is Korea like this?” Though she was a 2nd grade high school student, her interest was only about Hana Finance. That day, as a whole, she posted 16 messages all of which were about Hana Finance; so are her 344 messages so far.

Another user ‘@kakakim2222’(Han-yeong Kim) who described herself as ‘a fashion designer in Paris, France’ was also interested only in issues of Hana Finance. This woman who opened her id at the same day with ‘@lotto145’(A-reum Han) kept on twitting messages denouncing KEB union who objected the KEB take-over by Hana Finance. At the first day of this year, she twitted 37 messages all of which concerned about Hana Finance. Meanwhile, when opposition party representatives were pushing forward the investigation on Lone Star incident on Dec. 31, last year, employees of Hana Finance visited National Assembly en mass and tried to see representatives by themselves, causing a controversy for illegal lobbying.

Interestingly, about 100 twitter users who are suspected of being employed by Hana Finance started twitting messages from 10AM and did not twit any message after 6PM. They never did any twitting during weekends. Also, those users commonly used only the ‘twtkr’ program, which means they were twitting only using desktops not using any smartphones. Also, users suspected of being employed by Hana Finance make sure to leave several messages in a row with different ids after twitting several messages in a row with some ids.

A follower-ship diagram by a user ‘@haha8831’ suspected of being employed by Hana Finance (right). She is making follower-ship relation not with any ordinary netizens but only with users suspected of being employed by Hana Finance. If we moved further into the web of follower-ship by ’@haha8831’, we only came up with other users suspected of being employed by Hana Finance.

So, who would be in charge of running these employed ids? One employed id (@odoke51) was quite conspicuous since he introduced manager In-kyoo Park of Hana Finance Future Planning Team. He posted the picture of Park In-kyoo taken while lecturing about Twitter in KAIST at 6:54PM on Dec. 12. Since his first posting on Aug. 30, this was almost the only twitter message of his own composition other than simple retwits or short addendum. After that, then, he went back to his original pattern of sending out Hana Finance advertisement messages composed of mainly simple sentences. Besides, other employed users such as @leegusik(Koo-sik Lee), @umi_4027(Yoo-mi Kim) retwitted manager Park’s messages on 13th.

Manager Park drew much media attention last year for being the first Korean internet power user who linked Twitter to marketing. He received public acclaim of ‘the myth of one million Twitter supporters’ by recording over 1,000,000 followers in Oct. 2010 all his team members combined.

In what connection did those employed users of Hana Finance retwit or introduce his twitter posts? We asked manager Park if he ‘managed fake Twitter ids,’ but he denied it. In a phone call with , manager Park said “I don’t know anything about that. You are the first one who talk to me that Hana Finance is running a public opinion response team in the whole group level.”

Hana Finance, at the end of last year, ordered every division to setup ’emergency response SNS management strategy’ indicating that “we need to respond to malicious public opinion in Twitter.” Employed users of Hana Finance expanded substantially since then, which makes us to suspect systematic intervention by Hana Finance. When we traced back the ip addresses of those users, they all happened to come from an office residence in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. It is also possible that an agency in charge of all employed Twitter ids of Hana Finance work there.

Public opinion manipulation by conservative groups?

We also noticed Twitter ids suspected to be employed by conservative groups. When central Twitter users wrote once in every thirty minutes, tens of other employed user ids retwitted them mechanically.

It worked like this. Twitter user ‘@junhyun91’(Jeong-hyeon) writes Twitter messages in every thirty minutes from 8:30AM to 11:30PM everyday. Considering that she writes at exactly every thirty minutes, she seems like using the scheduled twitting function. Since her first message at Oct. 12, last year, she has been twitting 25 messages a day on average. So far, she posted about 2,100 twitter messages.

The Twitter user ‘@junhyun91’ who is automatically sending out conservative messages. She posts messages in exactly every thirty minutes. Considering that she resends same messages in every several days, she seems like using an automatic messaging program.

Her messages were mainly of five kinds. Criticisms on North Korea, criticisms on leftists, quotations of former president Park Jung-hee, maxims of foreign figures, and messages in support of Korea-US FTA. She sometimes mixes quotations of former President Park and maxims of foreign figures to smear out her bias. She sometimes Twitts the same messages multiple times.

For instance, she sent “if there is possibility for even one out of 100 and if we do our best for that one possibility, that is the national defense. (Park Jung-hee)” message at 8:20PM on Dec. 28, 2011, at 5:54PM on Dec. 31, at 9:25AM on Jan. 2, 2012, at 8:54PM on Jan. 4, and at 10:55AM on Jan. 6. repetedly.

She also sent “history always endowed people of resilience and courage to overcome hardships with prosperity and glory. (Park Jung-Hee)” message repetitively at 10:54AM on Dec. 30, at 8:25PM on Dec. 30, at 12:25AM on Jan. 2, and at 5:25PM on Jan. 5.

Twits posted by @junhyun91 were retwitted through a sequence of employed users in an orderly manner. They were using TwitterFeed that has message auto-feeding function for posting messages; users @wndbdhkd, @photooverdomain, @slackandtaut, @mammia30, @minikim78, @gosu666, @bagirrak were retwitting messages in this order. The order they were retwitting rarely changed. It looked like someone set the order in this way automatically. Most of the profile pictures of employed users were beautiful women.

We could not confirm which organization was systematically posting these messages from where.

Twitter messages sent by a conservative main user ‘@junhyun91’ were spread by tens of other employed users. The image below depicts the way employed users retwitting a message by ‘@junhyun91’. The straight lines indicate that employed users maintained retwitting orders quite strictly.

Twitter agencies, “we manage fake ids”

Agencies that manage enterprise Twitter ids testified that organized efforts to manipulate public opinion did take place in Twitter. One businessman said to that “there are many ids like ‘Chosun Ilbo-bot’ that we run automatically” and added “companies sometimes ask us to setup fake ids and run them to fool consumers.”

Another businessman who ran the Twitter agency for about a year said “two to three companies asked us to make fake ids and post company advertising messages. I made about 40~50 ids as if an ordinary people and posted messages like product advertisements or event announcements.” One person can setup several ids in Twitter.

However, experts say this kind of public opinion manipulation effort is not so effective. They say, since Twitter users do not retwit messages they don’t agree, those messages circulate only among employed users. Also, Twitter users can block messages from employed users through the ‘unfollow’ function anytime.

Professor Jang Deok-jin (Sociology, Seoul National University) said “since no one feels empathetic to messages from employed users, those messages are not retwitted at all and do not have enough distribution power. Rather, they collect only ridicules among netizens and produce only adverse effects.” In fact, messages distributed by employed users were circulated only among them and were not spread among ordinary users.

허재현 기자 catalunia@hani.co.kr

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