When Censorship is not an option: Internet Trolling by National Intelligence Agency of S. Korea:

  • Ho Young Yoon University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Woo Chang Kang Yale University
Keywords: Trolling, Government, Censorship, Intelligence Agency, Public Opinion


This study examines the trolling operation in S. Korea during the presidential election year in 2012. S. Korea national intelligence agency, National Intelligence Service (NIS) has conducted Internet trolling activity as a covert operation during the course of presidential campaign. The agency has set its goal to influence public discourse, in favor of the governing party and presidential candidate of the party. Since covert operation of intelligence agency is commonly illegitimate and rarely known, the case will provide us a unique opportunity to understand, how intelligence agency under authoritative regime uses its power and resources to manipulate public discourses and opinions The study uses legal documents made by Prosecutors’ Office of S. Korea and trial records prosecuting the former NIS director. These materials are used to reconstruct the organizational structure of the trolling team and how the operation is conducted by NIS agents. We have conducted document analysis and used the content coding made by the Prosecutors’ Office. The Office has analyzed the contents of trolling whether it is interfering the presidential elections or manipulating public discourse. The analysis results suggest that the operation to manipulate public opinion is preferable over censorship practice where formal democracy of laws and regulation explicitly prohibit large scale censorship. In addition, it is revealed that where technological and human resources to conduct censorship are limited – due to the prohibition by the laws and regulations – trolling operation is one of the most effective and efficient ways to intervene online public discourse.
How to Cite
Yoon, H. Y., & Kang, W. C. (2016). When Censorship is not an option: Internet Trolling by National Intelligence Agency of S. Korea:. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 6. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v6i0.9012
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