Kim (48, a.k.a. D-ruking) was arrested for manipulating the number of recommendations of online comments on Naver, and as the details of his actions are being disclosed to the public, the term, a modern day digital political broker, has emerged. This is because the actions of some "power bloggers" and engineers with political clout resemble the behavior patterns of election brokers and "heads" of professions and local organizations who used to run rampant in previous elections.
A "digital broker" usually leads people to post online comments on web portals and social network sites (SNS). D-ruking is a typical example. He established a reputation with posts that cleverly analyzed the political circle, then organized an online group under the name, a Group for Economic Coevolution, which attracted over 2,500 members. With such support, he attempted to manipulate public opinion on a web portal using Macro.
If state agencies such as the National Intelligence Service and the military's Cyber Command tried to manipulate public opinion with online comments under the conservative government, such as the Lee Myung-bak government, now, such movements are developing in the private sector in the form of small sporadically connected groups.
In a phone conversation with the Kyunghyang Shinmun, one first-time lawmaker of the Democratic Party in the Seoul metropolitan area said, "Someone contacted me shortly after I was elected in the parliamentary election two years ago and said, 'I was impressed with your activities and I would like to help you. I would like to increase the number of your Twitter followers by 500.'" He said, "At the time, I just accepted his words literally, but then he immediately began making requests that I could not accept. I was so surprised, I just cut off all contact."
One lawmaker in the Honam region said, "In present-day elections, an SNS headquarters at the election commission is a must. Even in the last presidential election, there were all kinds of suggestions, with people contacting the SNS headquarters because people with similar views created their own groups. I kept my guard because there were also a lot of problems."
There are also many cases where people exaggerate their influence on the Internet. One person, whose name was well-known online, claimed to have spent 700 million won in order to attract the public online in support of a certain candidate during the primary to elect the leader of the Democratic United Party in 2012, but it turned out to be false.
Now politicians tend to be on alert for such political "players." One opposition party lawmaker said, "I do not expand my influence online by relying on someone recommended from the outside."
Brokers run rampant taking advantage of the candidates, who are desperate for one more vote, during election season, the best time to make civil requests. Such an election framework is the same now as in the past. However, with the expansion of the online forum for public opinion with the development of inter-computer communications in the late 1990s, the Internet in the 2000s and online communities, SNS, and online comments in the 2010s, the brokers have evolved to meet the changing environment.
The boundary between the voluntary expression of a citizen's opinions and the organized intervention in public opinion is ambiguous. The online forum as a floor for public debate should be promoted, but problems, such as those exposed by the latest incident, should be subject to regulation. It is not a problem that can be clearly separated, and is a task that the entire society, as well as the politicians, who are the legislative body, should tackle.