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The Political Slant of Web Portal News and the Implications Relating to the Fake News Phenomenon

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  • Author CHOI. Dongook
  • Date 2017/09/12
  • Series No. KDI FOCUS No. 85, eng.
  • Language English
SUMMARY □ The argument that the news selection of Korean web portals is politically biased lacks not only objective evidence but also discourse on what the causes are. If web portals provide a sufficient amount of variety in their news contents, it may be unnecessary to regulate the average bias. However, a cautious approach is needed when expanding algorithm-based news feed services as the selective consumption of personalized news will polarize public opinion, which in turn, will serve to further disseminate fake news.

- Web portals have editing teams that select and assign news contents.

- In the past, bias was commonly measured in a subjective or arbitrary manner.

- The partisanship was measured strictly based on statistics and not the researcher’s arbitrary judgement.

- The political leanings of web portals measured on a specific time line is the result of public opinion of a certain event.

- Web portals have an incentive to maximize their advertising profit by increasing the number of users’ clicks.

- Consumers tend to reduce additional news consumption in the news section when they agree less with the views of the posted article.

- The political bias of portal news is related to the portal’s profit structure.

- Personalized news feed could take away the chance for consumers to experience the diversity of news contents.

- The erosion of public trust in mainstream media and the increased use of SNS amplified the spread of fake news.

- In Korea, web portal can serve as a checking mechanism that suppress the echo-chamber effect incurred by SNS.

- Diversity indicators can be developed using the level of bias in portal news.

- News with diverse perspectives should be made available via web portals.
KDI VOD Report
News consumption via web portals is rapidly increasing in Korea.

Web portals do not directly produce their news contents,
but select, assign and post them, much like conventional media outlets.

Then, do news web portals present similar political bias?

To answer this question,
this study conducted a big data analysis to objectively measure
the political orientation of Korea’s major portals.

Firstly, data was compiled on
the expressions used by conservatives and progressives
in official statements to address certain issues.

Next, the relative frequency of these expressions and
their significance was applied to measure the political orientation
of portals.

The results reveal that,
web portals are not systematically biased in their selection of contents,
but rather, swayed by public opinion.

profit in the web portal market is generated by the number of user clicks.

As such,
web portals are highly likely to select news contents
that cater to the political leanings of their user base
than the government or news providers.

How does the political preference of users affect
portals’ selection of news contents?

Using data on consumer’s click rate and portal’s political orientation,

an empirical analysis found that users favored portals
that are closer to their political standing, and this in turn,
determined the leanings of the respective portals.

The results further revealed that this is an inevitable consequence of
the afore mentioned incentive structure.

Then, are there any related problems with portal’s behavior?

Recently in Korea,
local portals are expanding their algorithm-based news feed services.

However, this raises concerns and a cautious approach is needed.
This is because such customized services will most likely reduce
the opportunity for users to come into contact
with diverse news and perspectives.

Additionally, they could polarize public opinion and
provide a basis to further disseminate fake news.

The Korean peoples’ trust in major conventional media is eroding.

In contrast, we are also seeing a huge surge in the use of social media,
including Facebook and Kakao Talk.

As a consequence, more people are sharing and circulating contents within a certain
homeogenous group, which makes the polarization of public opinion more inevitable.
Worse still, fake news may even become credible.

This was evident during last year’s presidential elections in the US.

A clear distinction between Korea and the US, in terms of new consumption,
is that the share of portal news is high.
This means that, even with the growing influence of social media,
portals can play a major role in exposing consumers to the diversity of news.

And to uphold this diversity, we must reinforce and highlight the
editorial rights and the responsibility of portals.
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