Infographic: How South Korean Intelligence Interfered in Election

Since the Presdential elections last year, debate has continued over suspected election interference by the ruling Saenuri government. The National Intelligence Service is accused of using Twitter to influence discussion of the election in 2011 and 2012, and to suppress discussion of the election scandal itself.

A year after the accusations surfaced, prosecution continues, but is moving along so slowly that it seems like no progress has been made. Critics have grown frustrated, and the election interference issue has become a driving force in street protests, notably with the “How are you doing?” poster movement.

From Hankyoreh:

The number of tweets made by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) is about 30% of the total number produced by Korean citizens.





The head Prosecutor has confirmed that from 2011 to December 2012, NIS employees of the Psychological Operations Group made 22 million tweets from 2270 Twitter accounts, tweets that were systematically posted or re-tweeted.  This is 20,910,000 more tweets than had been found by earlier investigations. Due to limited resources for the investigation and court schedules, evaluating the tweets has become increasingly difficult. The number of NIS tweets identified as linked to interference in the presidential election and politics is expected to increase exponentially.



On the morning of November 4th, National Assembly Member Ahn Cheol-Soo (Independent) held a press conference at the Yeouido National Assembly Press Room in Seoul and recommended there be a special independent investigation into the claims of presidential election interference.






The process of investigating NIS tweets and the actual amount of tweets.

Building a Database

Time period of account activity: Sept. – Dec. 2012 (3 months)

1.2 million Twitter accounts

32 million tweets

Based on the results of an analysis of all tweets containing keywords that were from “the orders and keynotes from the NIS director”



Results of the First Investigation

Sept. 2012 – Dec. 2012 (3 months)

55,689 tweets related to election, politics.

383 accounts

(55,689 tweets)





Results of the Second Investigation

January 2011 – December 2012 (2 years)
1,210,228 tweets, of which 1,090,000 were from 2270 simultaneous re-tweeting accounts and 120,000 were from 383 separate accounts.







Actual Amount of Tweets (made public by the prosecutor on November 5th)

Jan. 2011 – Dec. 2012 (2 years)

22 million tweets from 2270 accounts, 95% of which were missed by earlier investigations.








At the hearing held on the 5th, Won Se-Hoon, former director of the National Intelligence Service, said, “[the NIS] took control of election discussion among Twitter users.”

The prosecution publicly disclosed the emails from Twitter team members Jang and Kim.

In an email entitled “April 15th, key points”: “Ahead of the elections, lead the discussion of the presidential elections for Twitter users.”

From an email entitled “Spread right wing ideas”: In a statement, one team member under police investigation said, “Among our key issues and key points to be shared, there were issues that had to be sent daily to conservative commentators’ Twitter accounts.”

Announcement of 1,210,000 illegal Tweets that were retweets of content from conservative commentators such as Byeon Hee-Jae.

Comments from Naver:


I’m at a loss for words, ke ke. Where are all those Ilbe bugs who were saying there weren’t that many comments?


This country’s gone insane.. We’re going backwards.


A creative way to show that there is no end…..


Goodbye Ms. Park! Go back to the past with Mr. Ki-Choon..


This country is losing its mind… Clearly she should be impeached, no? Those idiots who were tricked and voted for Park Geun-Hye should take some time to think about that..


Where are all those Ilbe bugs who kept going on about how three comments about the election couldn’t have any influence?? Three comments now turns into 20 million… Wow such “creative economics” [mocking President Park’s “creative economy” plan]…


So it’s true the NIS interfered in the election. Our nation’s future looks dark.


Before it was three comments, but now it’s up to 20.91 million. *shivers* It’s super “creative”.


Chicken Geun-Hye is so hideous.


Damn, the NIS doesn’t care about getting information, they just made a bunch of comments.

Comments from Daum


If it’s really this bad, well…have I been writing comments to NIS agents when I join discussions on political articles? Hah.


Working as a group like that is so extraordinary.. How long do they think they can cover it up?


The only answer is for the chicken bitch to step down. It was clearly a rigged election. This has already gone too far.


Before the 12.19 election… journalist Joo Jin-Woo from Naneun Ggomsuda said this. ‘Sometimes you actually win an election but lose by the ballot counting…’ I overlooked it at that time but damn… We’re the victims of a crazy government.


★I will never vote for freaking Saenuri. ★I will not support the Chosun, Joongang, or Donga newspapers. ★I will vote my whole life. ★The last stronghold of democracy is the organized power of the people. ★Until Park Geun-Hye steps down, I will cheer on from afar. ★Saenuri, the New Crazy Right, and the Kyohaksa publishing company should disappear!!! ★In this tough world, I will survive till the bitter end. Saenuri, and all those who are descended from pro-Japanese traitors, the day you fail I will make sure to slaughter 12 Hanwoo cows for a feast.


Ke ke ke, the whole country has been turned upside down by internet comments. But of course, it’s just some independent misdeed of an individual who has nothing to do with the Chicken [referring to Park Geun-Hye], right?


Are you trying to brainwash all of Korea’s netizens? Assholes.


So up to now, I’ve been arguing through internet comments with those f**cking NIS agents?? For years??


NIS bugs. Ilbe bugs. Fucking Gyeongsang bugs. North Korean defector bugs. The best among them is the hatchery Gyeongbuk Daegu’s Ilbe bugs.

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  • feck

    i better tweet this

  • ToBeHeardNotSeen

    I’m sure Hollywood will start using this in their movies.

    • x1sfg

      Why do a movie when it’s already on TV?

      C-SPAN 2

  • agentS

    People believe stuff on Twitter? Really?
    If your vote is based on what people say on Twitter or Today’s Humor/Ilbe, then it’s not the NIS’ problem. It’s yo ass that’s dumb.

    • bumfromkorea

      So Twitter, at this day and age, in a hyper-compacted and interconnected society like South Korea, has no influence on public opinion?

      • chucky3176

        Everyone has different opinions when it comes to politics. Your political opinions uttered on twitter, probably wouldn’t influence mine, and vice versa.

        • Owen McCaffrey

          I think its a Scandal but I still think it didn’t effect the election results. People chose Park Geun Hye and Encumbant governments always have a messaging advantage over challengers because they have control over state media apparatuses. Twitter cannot sway someones vote that was not already about to be swayed anyway.

      • chucky3176

        In a very close race, the spam filled twitter comments may make some difference, and the election should be reviewed. But in a land slide victory like the one we saw with Park’s victory in the last election, I highly doubt twitter comments could have swayed the election results. Therefore those who are protesting on the streets to nullify the election and impeach the president is going overboard. What’s truly needed is the reform of the NIS so that they don’t meddle for any candidate in the future.

        • JoeChicago

          Umm…I am not sure you could call a 3.5% win a landslide. From an Economist article describing the election

          “Ms Park defeated the main liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party (DUP), by 51.6% to 48%, following a tight contest that had everyone guessing until the end.”

          Seems it was close enough that the twitter bombing effect that you posted about could be an issue.

          • bigmamat

            My question exactly. Did Korea have a lot of undecided voters? But was it illegal, I haven’t seen a single article that tells us there is an actual law against what they’ve done. Without something that would hold a government official accountable for this kind of behavior it broadens the burden of proof. Then you have to determine if their actions did have an effect or not. Something that is going to be impossible to prove.

          • chucky3176

            Sorry, I didn’t make this clear. I meant the legislative elections in April 2012, which clearly played a major role in Park Geun Hye’s Senuri party sweeping clean the seats, all except Seoul and south Cheolla, during the national election in December 2012. The conservatives have a clear majority in the parliament because they won all the seats except in Seoul and south Jeolla. In that regard, it was a clean swept victory which I doubt, could have been changed via anonymous twitter comments. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many total votes that added up for each candidates, it’s the number seats won that matters most.

        • ChuckRamone

          I’m glad people are protesting, no matter how small the ethical breach, or where the blame lies. They have to let the government know they won’t tolerate any monkey business.

  • bigmamat

    The Korean government can solve this problem for future generations.
    Public employees should be barred from political activities while at their workplace as they are in the U.S. Every new election cycle federal government employees are reminded that it is illegal to even discuss the election with fellow employees at their work site. No election materials on government computers, no buttons, posters and limited to one bumper sticker on your car. The threat of jail time and huge fines is enough to keep down on electioneering at the work site. Outside of work people are obviously free to exercise their rights as citizens and endorse whoever is their choice.

    • chucky3176

      Yes but it doesn’t stop the charges that US president and the National Security Agency were in cahoots to win the last election. This sounds very similar to Korea, except for the fact there are no street protests in the US case, as there are in Korea currently.

      • JoeChicago

        How does it sound similar at all? Neither of those articles was about the US President and the NSA being in cahoots to win the election. From the Atlantic article:

        “Do I think Obama ordered the NSA to spy on Romney for political gain? No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, Facebook metadata and other data are being collected. Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not,” Tabarrok writes. ”

        It is a problem that the NSA was collecting so much information, but the NSA was not influencing elections like the NIS.

        Then your Wellesly article disproves your comments above about the NIS having no effect on the election and never mentions anything about Obama and the NSA actually participating in election rigging.

        “However, “Twitter bombing,” which Metaxas describes as “creating a large number of Twitter accounts and sending a large number of unsolicited tweets to unsuspecting users within a short period of time,” can potentially confuse voters, especially if it is done shortly before the elections. For example, altering the number of followers can affect a viewer’s conclusion about candidate popularity”

        So according to this, the NIS could have swayed people into voting for Park because of their campaign. We have no way of knowing how the election would have been without the NIS interfering. Doesn’t seem like it doesn’t matter.

        Also, please stop acting like Korea is being picked on by the media because the NIS scandal is news. No one is picking on Korea, especially since outside of the Korean media, no one has written anything about this. I have seen very few English articles about the NIS. If this did happen in the USA it would be a big deal, in fact when something similar like this happen in the USA it caused a President to step down, or have you forgotten about Nixon. Please read your articles before you use them as supporting facts.

        • bigmamat

          I know it’s almost kind of too stupid to waste that much time on a reply.

        • chucky3176

          Read Holdingrabbit’s post above. Twitting comments on the internet is not the same as rigging the elections. Just like you point out, there’s no evidence that Obama and NSA worked together to influence their election victory, where is the evidence that Park was responsible and had worked together to influence the election to get the victory?

          “Also, please stop acting like Korea is being picked on by the media because the NIS scandal is news. No one is picking on Korea,”

          And I never said anyone was. If you look at the Korean opposition party’s charges critically, I just don’t see where there’s any evidence of wrong doings by Park Geun Hye that deserves nullification of the election and impeachment, even if the NIS was guilty of send out millions of bot spam messages on Twitter. On what grounds do you think the Korean president need to step down?

          • JoeChicago

            You are right, there is no evidence Park Guen Hye had anything to do with the twitter. I am not saying that Park Geun Hye needs to step down as right now there is no proof she did anything to condone or help the NIS with their manipulation. But she and the Sanuri should be much more vocal and supportive about having joint investigations with the opposition parties. Since the twittering obviously benefited her, its not suprising people want to make sure she did not know anything about it. Couldn’t you agree to a more thorough investigation about who were the major plays in the scandal?

            About the twitter influencing elections…..its not the individual tweets that are dangerous, its the collective tweets influencing public opinion and media perception. Many people use twitter now a days to view public opinion. Flooding twitter with unreal people and accounts that post “opinions” makes 1 persons opinion look likes 1000 peoples opinions. The could cause people to feel their views are in the minority and change what they think is possible in the elections. Twitter bombing is not out right election fraud but it sure isn’t ethical.

          • chucky3176

            And you don’t think the Korean left and the opposition parties didn’t use the same tactics on twitter and on internet movements? If you really believe this, then I got a nice shiny car to sell you. There were 100,000 people holding candle lights who were out on the streets of Seoul the other day, demanding that the government stop the privatization of the KORAIL (based on unfounded rumours on the internet that the government was sneakily trying to privatize them). They also demanded that Park Geun Hye step down and that she be impeached for cheating on the elections, as the internet commentary go wild in Korea about her role in rigging the elections. Again, the proof? Damn the proof, it’s what’s twitted and what’s blogged and commented is more important. I am sorry, but when it comes to internet manipulation in Korea, no-one comes close to the ability of people at Naver, Daum, etc, in manipulating public opinion, and all Korean political parties are guilty the same. For the Korean opposition parties to cry unfair… well that’s rich, the accusation.

          • JoeChicago

            Again I am not calling for Park to step down. What I am calling for is a complete investigation done by an unbiased party. Sanuri wants this to be done and over with. But the more that is investigated the more that is discovered. We went from originally a few hundred tweets to 22 million. Thirty percent of the Korean tweets were made by the NIS!!! Have a thorough investigation and no one can call for her to step down.

            And having political parties manipulate tweeter is wrong and there should be laws against it and people should he punished. At the same time you expect that from a politcal party. But the NIS is not a political party, they are a government organization that have nothing to do with elections. It is even more egregious that they would try to influence elections.

      • bigmamat

        Fucking really? First of all, you must be a libertarian. Next an article in the Atlantic about the potential for rigging elections by means of NSA surveillance isn’t proof of anything. I won’t argue the potential problems involved with monitoring our every communication. I argued against this more than 10 years ago. Where were you then? So what is your point anyway? What has that got to do with Korea enacting similar laws? Korea is a smaller country and a more conformist country. Not that politics isn’t a corrupt business no matter what country, and your suggestion for keeping public servants non partisan would be?

  • Mr X

    When I first heard that there was going to be a Korean version of CHinaSMACK, I was very excited, but now I’m disappointed because KoreaBANG is a poor imitation of ChinaSMACK because it views all issues from a left-wing perspective. If anyone does not believe me go back and look at their previous articles on this site.

    • commander

      koreaBang’s aim is to provide well-balanced perspectives on trending issues in South Korea that may have not been covered by local English news media.

      And in the article selection, koreaBang consider the rankings of the most-read articles or most-commented articles, meaning that posted articles can be a gauge of public sentiment of Netizens, if not the people of all ages.

      You may feel uncomfortable with this infographic that lays bare the broadth of the spy agency’s meddling in the 2012 presidential election because you may think ‘sympayhizers for North Korea,’ currently a enemy state, exert great influence across thr country, it needs curbing with the NIS counter-communism intelligence activities that should not be put on the chopping board in the name of reform.

      But, the NIS scandal, if unchecked, could set an omnious precedent that would be also capitalized on by opposition parties to drive what they see as an oppressor of human rights away from the nation’s highest office.

      If you think pro-North Korea people are detrimental to national interests, you should confront them by advancing causes that are appealing to the public.

      The spy agency’s intervention is the last thing a flourishing democracy would want.

    • holdingrabbits

      What’s left-wing about reporting what happened other than it’s embarrassing to you? I guess when Clinton was having his Monica Lewinsky scandal, the media was super right-wing.

  • holdingrabbits

    What they did should definitely be punished, but I don’t think we can say that they manipulated the election. We’re talking about tweets, not votes. People still had agency in the election and could have chosen to vote for someone else. I think the bigger problem is the belief that the populace is so incredibly stupid and suggestible that they vote for whatever’s big on twitter at the moment without a thought for what their personal political opinions are. If that is the case, then might I suggest an overhaul of the education system…

    • Courtland Miles

      I agree. This happens a lot. I’m even surprised sometimes when I see political banners on the street here in South Korea, with sometimes very heavy worded language (you’ve got to love phone dictionaries). What the NIS did should definitely be further looked into, and those that broke the law should be fired and barred from government jobs in the future. And I think Saenuri has handled this whole fiasco not very well. It has been a PR disaster for them.

      • holdingrabbits

        Sadly, the political memory of Korea is short. I’d like to say that this will have an effect on future elections, but I don’t think it will. 2MB had horrible popularity ratings by the time he was done, but his party still got their candidate in. The Korean populace is sometimes like a woman who won’t leave her abusive boyfriend. If people are using twitter to decide who to vote for, then yeah, people are dumb.

        • Chris Wagner

          It’s not that you use twitter to decide who to vote for, it’s that information or disinformation can quickly become the norm when your intelligence agency is dominating 30% of one medium in your country. Just like a large corporation advertising an already well-known product, the point isn’t to make you say “Oh I want that right now”, it is a more long-term information space domination project.

    • FYIADragoon

      Exactly. From what I saw of the elections, I’d say this would be their Bush Jr. re-election moment. They had a chance to not be idiots and they blew it.

  • This is what happens when a country pursues the almighty dollar by emulating the U.S. political system of the day.
    Say it ain’t So SK.
    Japan be the compliant copiers. SK should strive to be the innovators and cast off their shackles.
    You are unique and you are strong. How else would you be able to defeat the waves of barbarian invaders over the millennia?

  • David

    Anybody who votes based on twitter comments deserves to be manipulated. Come on. Perhaps they should be a little less worried about the intelligence service “rigging” the election (sounds like they stole the ballets) and more worried that so many people can be influenced by simple twitter bombs, like sheep to the slaughter. Or that their countries intelligence resources are being wasted on political purposes when it could be used to spy on other countries (the real purpose of intelligence services)…

    • Chris Wagner

      I don’t think you understand how this works. They’re not expecting people to read these and say, “Oh, I’ll vote for Park!”. Just like a Coca Cola ad… the purpose isn’t immediate but rather an attempt to overwhelm other brands (or politicians) in the information space. It works, and it brings yields, because it preys on basic human psychology.

      • David

        Believe me, 20 years of owning a business I understand how it works. I also understand that people should not get their voting advice from on-line forums. Do a little research of your own (from multiple sources). I do not go out and buy Coke just because I see a great Coke commercial (and they have some great ones) it is called making decisions for yourself.

        • Chris Wagner

          You did not read what I said at all. The point is not to make someone go out and buy a Coke. The point is to indundate the population with the idea of Coke so as to create dominant brand awareness. Just like this… their objective wasn’t “maybe this tweet will make someone vote for Park”, it was to create a base of information and disinformation favorable to their objectives. Your pontificating about “hurr hurr doing the research” is wasted because you know as well as I that very few people do research into anything, let alone the politicians they vote for. If you throw out enough information, you will catch thousands of people who will become more sympathetic to your cause, or solidify their already-existing political leanings. I’m kind of disappointed that a political science major does not see the obvious dragnet and information creep value of millions of tweets, especially in a country like South Korea where being bombarded by a high frequency of information is the norm.

          • David

            Your point was not difficult to understand, I got it when I read the article. However, it does not invalidate what I said. I think the biggest crime is the ineffective use of the intelligence service. If you going to go to all this trouble for the possibility of influencing people you should just steal the ballots, that is how everybody else rigs the election and it is much more sure.

  • chucky3176

    Let’s look at this case rationally and examine the charges that the government is dragging its feet in prosecuting the NIS, shall we?

    Look at this sentence:

    “A year after the accusations surfaced, prosecution continues, but is
    moving along so slowly that it seems like no progress has been made.
    Critics have grown frustrated, and the election interference issue has
    become a driving force in street protests, notably with the “How are you doing?” poster movement.”

    But then this right after:

    “The head Prosecutor has confirmed that from 2011 to December 2012, NIS employees of the Psychological Operations Group made 22 million tweets from 2270 Twitter accounts, tweets that were systematically posted or re-tweeted.”

    So OK, the NIS were using machine spam bots to tweet and retweet. How else can they post 20 million posts from only 2270 Twitter accounts? So my next point, how did the head prosecutor find this out if the investigation team is not doing anything as the protestors are charging? Why would the investigators announce this if they are part of the government cover up? Isn’t it true that the Liberals and the protestors against the NIS, are not really interested in letting the investigators do their jobs? That they are unhappy that they’re not getting the immediate results they really want – which is that Park Geun Hye was the one behind the curtain controlling the NIS? And that even if the investigators came back with results, the protestors will not be happy until they get their head – which is Park Geun Hye herself? The national focus should be to reform the NIS leadership so that they are neutral politically, and less about Park Geun Hye. But the opposition party is not really interested in reforming the NIS, they are more interested in bringing down the government so that they can get into power, so that they’ll be the ones in the position to abuse their power. Such is the state of politics in Korea – nothing gets done because everyone wants to be the leader however deceitful they can get.

  • chucky3176

    A man doused himself into flames and dies later in the hospital. He was calling for the resignation of Park Geun Hye for illegal electioneering. Reports the Korea Times.

    The police found his diary leaving a final word to his family. The police also found that the man had a credit card debt of $30K from 7 or 8 years ago trying to cover for his family’s failed business, suggesting economic hardship. But the lawyer who volunteered to represent the family (from the lawyers for democracy), stated that there’s no way this man died because of debt which was easily manageable, suggesting that it was Park Geun Hye administration’s fault for this man committing suicide.

    The citizen coalitions for democracy movement and the high ranking representatives from opposition parties including the United Democratic Party, and the United People’s Party (the North Korean sympathizer party), joined forces to convince the family to elevate the dead man to a proletarian hero status by moving his funeral up to the martyr status. The opposition parties will hold an official funeral for him, and his body will be buried in the Gwangju’s 5.18 memorial park (memorial cemetary with victims of 1980 Gwangju massacre).

    So this is just one good example of how politicians in Korea are using a stupid senseless act of one suicidal man, to extract political benefits for themselves. Excusing radicalism like this is disgusting. This is all just a sick show.

  • ColdCalc

    Seriously, South Koreans need to be more worried. The last Canadian election (which consolidated power for the Conservative Party) was later “rocked” by revelations that Liberal-inclined voters were receiving phone calls from someone pretending to be Elections Canada reminding them that the voting station had changed locations. This was a lie, and the calls came from Conservative Party supporters. It happened on a massive scale across the country.

    Nothing happened. The public forgot about it. The Conservatives didn’t even have to admit to wrongdoing or apologize. Don’t let this happen in South Korea!

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