SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s president is cracking down on rumours in cyberspace in a campaign that threatens the popularity of Kakao Talk, the leading social media service in a country with ambitions to become a global technology leader.
Prosecutors announced the crackdown two weeks ago after President Park Geun-hye complained about insults directed at her and said false rumors “divided the society”.
That rattled users of Kakao Talk, a smartphone-based app used by 35 million of South Korea’s 50 million people. It prompted a surge of interest in a previously little-known German competitor, Telegram.
Rankey.com, a research firm, said an estimated 610,000 South Korean smartphone users visited Telegram on Wednesday, a 40-fold increase over Sept 14, before the crackdown was announced. The company said its estimate was based on a randomly selected group of 60,000 people it follows regularly.
On Friday, Telegram was the most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store in South Korea. On Google Inc’s store, Telegram was the No 2 downloaded free communications app, behind only Kakao Talk.
South Korean users left reviews on Telegram saying they left Kakao Talk to seek “asylum”. They asked Telegram to add a Korean language service.
The uproar threatens to slow adoption of social media or send South Korean users to foreign services, undercutting government ambitions to build a high-tech “creative economy”.
“It will definitely limit the number of new signups, as users opt for services which are not subject to monitoring,” said Jon Bradford, a managing director at startup accelerator TechStars in London. “Any policies that the Korean authorities only impose upon local businesses will damage their competitiveness both at home and abroad.”