Doctored photo shared in anti-Chinese posts about 'people hired to protest ex-South Korean leader'

·3 min read

Facebook posts circulating in South Korea appear to show a photo of protesters holding Korean-language signs in the wrong order. The posts mock the demonstrators in the photo and claim they are Chinese people "hired" to protest former South Korean president Park Geun-hye. However, the photo has been doctored; the original picture was taken in 2015 and shows activists holding signs in the correct order to show an anti-Park message.

"Certain proof that Chinese people were deployed at demonstrations," reads a Korean-language Facebook post shared on May 8.

The photo appears to show a line of people each holding a sign with one Korean letter and standing in an order which makes the message read: "Park Hye-jin leaves work".

The message misspells the name of Park Geun-hye, South Korea's first woman president who was impeached in 2017 after a graft scandal sparked huge street protests.

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook, taken on June 13, 2022.

The image has circulated since at least 2015 on South Korean internet forums, including here and here, apparently intended as a joke.

But since at least 2017, it has been shared with the claim that it shows Chinese people hired to protest Park, coinciding with a rise in anti-China sentiment over the last two years.

Polls show negative views of China among South Koreans doubled from 37 percent in 2015 to 75 percent in 2020, US broadcaster Voice of America reported.

AFP has previously debunked claims targeting Chinese residents in South Korea, including here and here.

The image has also been shared alongside a similar claim here, here and here.

However, it has been doctored.

Deadly ferry disaster

A Google reverse image search found the original photo posted on Twitter on April 11, 2015 by Moi, a now-defunct online news service operated by the South Korean news organisation OhMyNews.

The photo shows the signs in the correct order, reading: "Park Geun-hye out."

The Korean-language tweet reads: "[On site] Demo Party appears in Gwanghwamun Square to call for Park Geun-hye's ouster. By Kim Si-yeon."

It includes hashtags about the first anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking in April 2014, a civic organisation called the Demo party and Park Geun-hye.

Park was widely criticised for her handling of the accident in which more than 300 people were killed, most of them schoolchildren, leading to protests in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square a year later, local media reported here and here.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the altered image (left) and the original photo posted by Moi (right):

Screenshot comparison of the photo shared alongside the misleading claim on Facebook (left) and the original photo posted in a tweet from Moi (right)

OhMyNews reporter Kim Si-yeon, who specialises in fact-checking, told AFP on June 9, 2022 that he took the original photo, which he said had been doctored.

"I captured the photo myself on April 11, 2015 during a protest on the first anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking, and posted it to OhMyNews' Moi service," Kim said.

A close-up of a section of the background in the original photo shows a sign that reads: "One year since the Sewol disaster. Remember! Act!"

Close-up of the original photograph taken by Kim Si-yeon, showing a sign marking the 1st anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking.

Kim said the Demo Party had attended several protests with the same signs, adding that his photo had later been altered and shared on right-wing internet forums.

Other images showing members of the Demo Party with the same "Park Geun-hye out" signs at different protests can be seen in reports by South Korean media such as daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo here, online media New Daily here and Yonhap News Agency here.

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