Social networking services emerged as the new trend in raising turnout during the Oct. 26 by-elections, as SNS users sent short messages encouraging one another to cast their ballots and pick the best candidate.
They posted self-portrait shots photographed at polling stations while celebrities joked they would urge their fans and others to cast votes. No doubt, social network services led by Twitter have secured a place as one of the strongest campaign tools among the younger generation, who cannot seem to put their mobile phones down.
SNS Page, a portal site for Twitter articles, said Wednesday that out of the top 10 keywords uploaded that day, eight were related to the election. They include vote turnout, National Election Commission, Seoul mayor, vote and others.
About 4,000 tweets encouraging people to vote were sent every hour, along with hundreds of photographs of people around polling stations.
According to TwittMix, an SNS analyzing firm, the number of Twitter articles mentioning either Na Kyung-won of the ruling Grand National Party or her rival, independent Park Won-soon, marked 985,158, a huge jump from 95,792 during the April 27 by-election.
Industry insiders estimate smartphone subscribers at 20 million in Korea. Twitter, where people have real time access to what other people think across the world, has played an important role in drawing the younger demographic’s attention back to politics, observers said.
“I never thought politics was so important. But through Twitter, I could feel the fever,” a university student wrote on his Twitter account.
Politicians tried hard to woo Twitter users. Park’s camp reported that he appointed scores of active Twitter users as his online campaign mentors who would spread good articles about him.
Former lawmaker Chung Bong-ju, who has risen to stardom with his satirical Podcast show, promised on Twitter that he would hold a signing event for those who cast ballots. His promise led to a long line of his fans at the Seoul Plaza in central Seoul, proving that everyone is watching Twitter around the clock.
However, the National Election Commission decided to put a brake on the trend. On Tuesday, the authorities announced that celebrities should not encourage other people to vote on the ground that it is very easy for the public to guess their political tendencies and what the celebs want them to do. The commission also issued a verbal warning to pop starlet Lee Hyo-ri, who urged her fans to go to the polls.
On Wednesday, however, the election watchdog said it was acceptable for celebrities to express that they have voted, but it is against the election law for them to request that others join the vote.
The NEC’s decision drew backlash.
Rep. Chung Dong-young of the main opposition Democratic Party wrote on his Twitter: “We will pay for the fines if you are caught violating the NEC regulations. Just ask people to go and vote!”
Singer Lee also said, “I am not really that famous. All I have asked was go out to vote.” Famous TV celebrity Kim Je-dong wrote, “I am not famous! I will take off my T-shirt when the vote turnout exceeds 50 percent!”
A group of internet users moved to file a petition to the Constitutional Court about the issue.
Professor Park Kyung-shin of Korea University defined Twitter as a verbal message deliverer rather than a documentary deliverer. “Restricting the use of SNS tools could be a violation of the right to pursue cultural lives,” he told the Herald Business Daily.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)