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Threat of Mass Spam Election Messages Looms

Posted March. 16, 2010 09:10,   


Spam election messages are being sent en masse by candidates ahead of the June 2 local elections, with mobile phones being commonplace and automatic text-messaging systems highly advanced and cheaper to use.

The decision to allow preliminary candidates to send text messages after registering their candidacy, a rule that took effect from these elections, is another reason for the widespread use of spam text messaging.

Election law restricts the transmission of text messages to five times when candidates use automatic mailing systems. The restriction seeks to prevent random and reckless spreading of election text messages but this cannot be monitored, leaving a major loophole in the effort to curb such irregularities.

○ Illegal text messaging rampant

Seoul’s Jung district in November last year sent the mobile phone text message, “The designation of Seongdong High School as a self-regulated public high school. The result of efforts to cultivate elite schools in Jung district. Jung-gu ward office chief Jeong Dong-il,” to 37,000 residents. This prompted a raid and seizure by police.

Police said Jeong conducted advance campaigning for the elections.

The National Election Commission has sanctioned 54 cases in which people sent text messages without registering as preliminary candidates, or third parties, a five-fold increase from the 2006 local elections (10 cases).

Considering that 78 days remain until the June 2 local elections, violations of text messaging rules have snowballed.

A candidate can make his or her name known to voters at fairly low cost through mass text messaging. Dozens of agencies offer automatic text messaging services, and given the intense competition among them, it costs just 12 won (one cent) to send a text message. This means only 120,000 won (105.75 U.S. dollars) is needed to send as many as 10,000 text messages.

A source at a text messaging agency told The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday, “We receive five to 10 inquires on text messaging every day these days,” adding, “They mostly ask about the cost, and request that we not transmit text messages to the same recipients.”

Candidates fear that sending the same text message repeatedly to the same voters could backfire.

“Many text messaging agencies have hired telemarketers and staged proactive marketing pitches targeting election camps to take advantage of a boom in the election period,” the source said.

○ Will candidates abide by transmission limit?

No restrictions govern preliminary candidates on sending text messages in person as long as such messages do not slander rival candidates or spread false information. The rule has been implemented to make the most of the preliminary candidate system, which is designed to allow new politicians to proactively promote themselves.

Election law, however, also restricts the number of occasions candidates can use automatic text messaging services to five times through the election date, a measure designed to dispel “stress” from election text messages.

The problem, however, is the lack of verification method to see if a candidate has sent text messages on his or her own, or whether automatic text messaging systems were used. As such, the election commission has no choice but to depend on reporting by rival candidates or whistle blowing by an insider to crack down on irregularities.

A commission source said, “Since we cannot immediately confirm whether a text message has been sent via automatic messaging services, we will thoroughly check the records of election campaign funds use in our inspection of campaign account books after the elections.”

To prevent election law from becoming virtually unenforceable, certain experts suggest including a footnote reading “This message has been transmitted via an automatic text messaging system” in messages sent via such a system.