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The Peninsula

Jingoism in the Digital Age

Published January 25, 2022
Author: Korea View

An emerging online trend is sweeping South Korea with uncertain political implications. Gukppong refers to a type of hyper nationalistic rhetoric mainly circulated through social media. The term is a portmanteau of “nation” and “meth”, referring to patriotism so excessive that it is like a drug. Some feel that it shows a sense of inferiority and a need for recognition from the West, while others see it as a misguided attempt to increase national pride.

Many popular gukppong channels on YouTube gain huge subscriber bases through Anti-Japanese or Sinophobic content. These videos often consist of baseless claims that exacerbate already strained relations with neighboring countries, or distort history, taking things out of context to make sensationalist “clickbait” headlines.

Misinformation on social media is not new, but YouTube’s growing influence in Korea makes the rise of gukppong concerning. Users spend an average of 39 hours per month on the app. According to Reuters’ 2021 Digital News Report, 44% of Koreans get their news through YouTube, more than double the average score of all other countries surveyed. Participants in a survey commissioned by Korea Broadcasting System ranked YouTube as the 5th most trustworthy medium, outranking local outlets like JTBC and TV Chosun. Simultaneously, 58.4% of users reported seeing false information on the platform last year.

While the government does have measures in place against misinformation, YouTube is an American company following California law, making it difficult to regulate. Due to the ubiquity of internet usage in South Korea, misinformation spreads quickly and exacerbates radical movements like the antifeminist wave. With the upcoming presidential election, the uncontrolled spread of gukppong content is especially concerning because it shows society’s vulnerability to misinformation – an issue that is not unprecedented.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from Flickr account of 한 성욱

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