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Twitter is favored campaign tool

Experts voice concern over spread of false, malicious informationBy Song Sang-ho

To court voters and boost their turnout for this week’s by-elections, candidates and their election campaigners have heavily resorted to Twitter, one of the most popular online social networking services.

As its influence has greatly increased with the number of smart phone users having soared to 10 million, Twitter has become a prerequisite for candidates to communicate with tech-savvy voters who candidly voice their anonymous political opinions online.

On their Twitter accounts, candidates posted short messages containing their thoughts and feelings on the campaign trails each day, which were instantaneously disseminated to a slew of fellow users and helped drum up their support.

One of the candidates who actively used Twitter during his election campaign this month was Choi Moon-soon of the main opposition Democratic Party. Choi, who began using the social networking tool in 2009 and has some 38,000 followers, ran for a gubernatorial election in Gangwon Province.
A voter browses Twitter. (Yonhap News)
A voter browses Twitter. (Yonhap News)

“I was attracted to use Twitter as I can inform people of what I am doing as a politician instantly and hear their voices right away. I leave my own stories on Twitter that have not been dealt with in other media and my well-wishers read them and support me. Their support is a real shot in the arm,” Choi told The Korea Herald.

“By using smart phones at their workplaces or homes, people can see the actual political arena far away from them, and convey comments to politicians directly. This will help enhance representative politics.”

Politicians began using online media tools several years ago. However, most of the tools were not as effective as Twitter.

“Two years ago, many politicians tried to open online tools such as Internet homepages for their political activities. However, they were just formalities and not effective as voters should go online to see the homepages,” said Kwak Eun-mi, senior DP official who handles the party’s online media affairs.

“However, politicians can directly meet and communicate with people through Twitter. It is hard to exactly assess the effect of Twitter on elections, but it has been effective as far as I believe.”

Experts pointed out that Twitter, which enables users to send and receive messages of up to 140 words on personal computers and mobile devices, is a powerful tool as it can lead many followers to “retweet” or reproduce the original message countless times worldwide.

They also said the power of the social networking tool will continue to increase as a wide range of users in terms of age, gender and other factors use it.

“Though the number of words in a message is limited, the speed the message spreads is very fast. Plus, users in increasingly various age groups are now using Twitter. Therefore, its power to disseminate and organize public opinion has greatly increased,” said Kim Woo-seog, the top official who handles the ruling Grand National Party’s digital media affairs.

Despite such benefits of Twitter, many experts pointed out that there are an increasing number of people who take advantage of animosity to spread malicious or false information through their Twitter accounts.

Some also said that it is difficult to crack down on those using Twitter for ill purposes as the accounts are based in the United States where the service was created.

“When something occurs, that may be spread through Twitter in a matter of seconds. The problem is that it cannot be filtered to check if that information is accurate or ill-intentioned,” said Koo Chang-hwan, president of the Human Network Management.

“Capitalizing on the fact that they can remain anonymous whatever they say, they can open multiple accounts and create messages that personally attack a particular person.”

By Song Sang-ho (