YouTube channels earn $525,000 from fake news on soccer player, AI firm says

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Mar. 4, 2024 8:43PM GMT+9

A South Korean artificial intelligence company reported on Monday that over 190 YouTube channels have allegedly created hundreds of fake news videos about South Korean soccer player Lee Kang-in. These channels reportedly earned approximately 700 million won ($525,000) from their activities.

The AI company Pyler reported that after soccer player Lee Kang-in was involved in a dispute with the national team captain, Son Heung-min, just before the Asian Cup semifinal last month, they identified 361 instances of fake news about Lee on YouTube. Between February 14 and 27, 195 channels disseminated this misleading content, accumulating a total of 69 million views. Pyler estimated that the creators of these videos earned approximately $525,000 in profit as a result.

Channel owners capitalized on the public controversy surrounding the star player by employing provocative titles and thumbnails to maximize their earnings. Despite Lee Kang-in, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, issuing a public apology on Instagram for his conduct during the tournament on February 21, he continued to face severe criticism. This ongoing negative attention reportedly even affected the advertisement industry.

The AI company revealed that a YouTube channel with 60,000 followers posted a video falsely claiming that Paris Saint-Germain had excluded Lee Kang-in from the first team, featuring a journalist who appeared to mislead viewers. Despite the misinformation, the video attracted over 500,000 views. In total, this channel produced 21 pieces of content focused on the South Korean soccer industry, amassing 3.1 million views up until last month.

Despite YouTube’s community guidelines, which include terminating channels that receive more than three warnings within 90 days for misinformation, South Korea has raised concerns about the proliferation of fake content on the platform. In December, the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) issued an official request to Google, the owner of YouTube, urging the tech giant to make genuine efforts in managing fake content. The KCSC highlighted significant issues with Google’s content management, stating it falls short of the company’s global reputation. They also emphasized the potential negative impact misleading content could have on South Korean users.

International experts have raised alarms about the consequences of misleading content spreading on video platforms. In 2022, the International Fact-Checking Network addressed this issue directly to YouTube through an open letter, declaring, “YouTube is one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide.”

The cover image of this article was designed by Daeun Lee. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.