Top Politics and Society Mentions on Twitter in South Korea for 2020 with commentary

Twitter has released their year-end roundup of the most Tweeted names and issues for 2020. I've picked 3 of their lists to take a look at today. I've gone through and translated the keyword mentions into English and included some of my own commentary to explain who or what they are and why they might have been especially trending this year. 

Top Politics and Society Mentions on Twitter in South Korea for 2020

The lists I'll look at are:

  1. Top Social Keywords in Korea 2020
  2. Most Tweeted Politicians in Korea 2020
  3. Top Social Issue People in Korea 2020
These lists are pretty good at giving a good idea of what topics were hot this year in South Korea, and I think a more representative view of what "real" Koreans were following than, for example, this year's list of top Google searches

Disclaimer: I am just one guy. I am not an expert on Korean politics or Korean government. I'm not even a real Korean myself. I'm just a guy with a blog who enjoys casually perusing Korean news in both English and Korean. So all of the following explanations and descriptions are basic distillations of my impressions from reading headlines, articles, casual chats with friends and coworkers, living and working near Seoul, etc. This info is just for your entertainment and I encourage you to read up on the issues yourself. Some interesting places (in English) to start would be The Blue Roof (by the famous "The Korean" of "Ask A Korean!" fame, for a more liberal view) or East Asia Research Center (for a conservative view). 

Read on for the lists.

Top Society Keywords in Korea 2020

Top Social Keywords in Korea 2020. Image: Twitter

These are the overall top trending keywords that found big popularity this year. Unsurprisingly many concern the COVID-19 outbreak so I won't say much about those. 

  1. 코로나19

    No commentary needed. I don't think anyone in the world could be surprised at this top keyword this year. One interesting detail is that a video put out by the Korea Centers for Disease Control with infection prevention tips and info became the #1 most-watched YouTube video in South Korea for 2020 (not counting K-pop related videos).
  2. N번방

    The so called "N room" was a set of chatrooms run through the chatting app Telegram in which a core group of exploiters, headed by Cho Ju-bin, sold sexually explicit and prohibited content, including pornography featuring minors and coercion. The extent of the operation, the number of buyers of the content, the young ages of both the victims and the perpetrators, all made for shocking news, including the seeming lenience of sentencing for some members. Cho, however, received a 40-year sentence.  
  3. 자가격리
  4. 사회적 거리두기
    Social distancing

    You can take a look at the social distancing levels the government introduced this year.
  5. 페미니즘

    It's Twitter so of course this was trending. I have to confess I don't follow this news that much, but you will note several political figures in the other list below involved in #MeToo type issues. 
  6. 세월호

    The ferry that sank back in 2014 tragically killing a large number of high school students and a massive milestone in recent Korean cultural and political memory. Sadly due to a number of factors the event is highly politicized, so chances are if you see someone sporting the yellow ribbon pin that commemorates the disaster (and was even adopted in Unicode), you can pretty much assume they are left-leaning. This hashtag seems to trend each year around the anniversary of the sinking as Korea's version of the "Never Forget" moment. But probably more salacious for 2020 are the suicides of some of the students' parents and of course the rumors (whether you believe them or not, they make good SNS content) that some of the victims' parents may or may not have engaged in a group sexual act in one of the memorial tents erected (pun intended) in Gwanhwamun Square. 
  7. 재난지원금
    Disaster relief funds

    Korean term for the Covid stimulus checks sent out by the government. Among foreign residents there were some issues about whether or not they would qualify. Many did end up receiving money.  
  8. 검찰개혁
    Prosecution reform

    This has been big news for awhile now, and while the COVID-19 situation makes most of the headlines, this is probably one of the biggest domestic political issues recently. There are a lot of ins and outs to this, but a simple basic summary is that the Korean Prosecution Service is a very powerful office and if you like your government to have checks and balances, you could nearly count the Prosecution Service as its own branch. It's empowered as such to keep a check on the Executive branch amassing too much power and influence especially when their party is in power. Sound familiar? That's basically the situation now. And now that the ruling liberal party has been sweeping elections for the past few years, they're in a position to seriously challenge and reign-in the Prosecution Service. Supporters of Moon and the left-wing tend to feel that the prosecution is an undemocratic mechanism of status-quo de-facto conservatism that serves mostly to hamper populist efforts at government reform, while the right-wing tend to find a reliable old stalwart ally in the prosecution with the government enshrined authority (i.e. the only office powerful enough) to fight corruption at the highest levels and take down some of the highest leaders when they misbehave. You'll see many names of people involved in prosecution reform efforts on the lists below. 
  9. 사랑제일교회
    Sarang Jeil Church

    You could write a book about the ins and outs of this topic too, because it's really not just about a church. I'll try to keep it short. The main thing about this church to note is its leader, Reverend Jun Kwang-hoon (전광훈, who also appears on the "most discussed figures" list this year). He is in some sense the de-facto leader of the far-right movement in South Korea right now, serving as a main organizer of the the Taegukgi rallies in Gwanghwamun against liberals like Cho Kuk and President Moon, and supporting former President Park Geun Hye. Naturally, he and his flock are arch enemies of the Moon administration. Reverend Jun is currently in jail [Update: and he's out] after troublemaking following another earlier stint in jail. He also eventually tested positive for coronavirus while heavily criticizing Moon's efforts at virus containment, both from political rivalry and religious freedom points of view. Naturally many have felt that these rallies and continued gatherings have done little but spread the virus further. Meanwhile, Moon's efforts to have the church building demolished, under the guise of "urban redevelopment," are seen by some as political retaliation. There really is so much here you could dive into and this is one of those major divisive issues that will really appear to be reported on very differently depending on your chosen source of news. 
  10. 낙태죄

    The big news here for 2020 was the government's relaxing of Korea's strict abortion restrictions, leading to legalization for early-term abortion. 

Most Tweeted Politicians in Korea 2020

Top Tweeted Politicians in Korea 2020. Image: Twitter

These are the political figures that were tweeted about most this year. 

  1. 문재인 대통령
    President Moon Jae-in
    I really feel like I don't need to talk about him. Just read the news. There's plenty. Some of it fake, some of it not. Let's move on to figures many foreign Korea-watchers might be less familiar with. 
  2. 추미애 법무부 장관
    Minister of Justice Chu Mi-ae
    (sometimes in the news as Choo Mi-ae)
    One of the most controversial figures of the year, Minister Chu has been embroiled in a number of power abuse issues this year, probably most notably regarding special treatment for her son. But she's also been vocal in a number of what many consider "oversteps" of her authority, from major issues like the politically-motivated removal attempt of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl to issues like preliminary police access to the phones of criminal suspects. I would say that, if you're a left-leaning individual, Minister Chu is a powerhouse bad bitch steamrolling through the halls of a corrupt government, protocol be damned. If you're a right-leaning individual, you likely think she's a fascist and blatantly politicized witch who thinks she's above the rule of law. Either way, she makes for exciting news and Twitter mentions. [Update: She's out]. She may harbor ambitions for the presidency after the Moon term is done, so I'm sure we'll keep seeing more of her. 
  3. 이낙연 더불어민주당 대표
    Party Leader Lee Nak-yon
    Former prime minister of Korea, now leader of the ruling "Minjoo-dang" party. Previously the favored candidate for next president of Korea, but probably #2 or #3 in line these days. 
  4. 윤석열 검찰총장
    Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl
    The man (nearlyremoved from office by #2 above [Update: Aaand he's removed, for now  Further update: And he's back. I'm sure this will go on like this so check the latest on his status yourselves]. Leader of the Prosecution, and likely next presidential candidate from the conservative party. His attempted removal is part of the overstep accusations against Justice Minister Chu, who sees him and his office as a powerful check on her own (and Moon's) ability to control the government. Yoon has been a top trending figure for years now. Interestingly he also prosecuted former President Park Geun-hye, and some feel he is gearing up to prosecute current President Moon at some point who is attempting to clean house before the end of his term. I like to think of Yoon as one of those "boy scout" type prosecutors, real straight laced and fundamentally beyond the scope of political party labels. But I'm sure others may disagree with that idea. What's interesting, and telling if you ask me, is that he's one of the few on this list who don't have a Twitter. 
  5. 강경화 외교부 장관
    Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha

    Sometimes criticized for her lack of government/diplomacy experience, she made use of her skills as a translator in several video interviews where she speaks in English, notably with the BBC which has given her a fairly outsized image abroad as the "Face of Korea's COVID Response." However her husband made an unfortunately timed pleasure boat purchase that didn't help her image. 
  6. 트럼프 미국 대통령
    US President Donald Trump

    No comment.
  7. 이재명 경기지사
    Governor Lee Jae-myung

    Current governor of Gyeonggi Province. This year Lee survived a Supreme Court ruling that failed to uphold a conviction that would have cost him his current career. I don't even know where to begin with this guy. He is the quintessential politician: unbreakable, unshakable, a little sleazy, keeping his fingers in a whole lot of pies. This guy bounces back harder and faster than a 스키아콩콩. Forget your basic corruption and financial irregularities and influence peddling schemes, this guy goes all in on those and more. From affairs with beautiful movie stars, to seemingly arranging for your own brother to be locked up in an insane asylum because he disagrees with your policies (and you thought your fights with your older brother were wild), this guy's seen and done it all. Bear in mind most of these are simply allegations that never managed to stick in court. Which goes to show how good he is at oiling the wheels that need it, perhaps. In all seriousness though, you could write a book covering Governor Lee's storied career, and he's not even close to finished. You absolutely will see him on these lists for the next few years. You can also see an interesting look at the man himself here: Lee Jae-myung: Populist, Left-wing, Unapologetic | KOREA EXPOSÉ
  8. 금태섭 전 의원
    Former Assemblyman Keum Tae-seop

    Probably most famous this year for being one of the few within the ranks of the left-wing to speak out against policies pushed for by the Moon administration. Former supporter of Ahn Cheol-soo and his party. He's shown ambition to become the Mayor of Seoul to replace former Mayor Park Won-soon who famously committed suicide this year. By the way, I'm quite surprised Mayor Park doesn't seem to appear on these lists. I wonder if he was scrubbed.
  9. 나경원 전 의원
    Former Assemblywoman Na Kyung-won

    Another famous long-time politician (despite the "former" in these titles, all of these people are power players and active in politics), Na pushed hard in promoting the investigation into special favors for the children of Cho Kuk, only to have allegations against her own son's special favors returned. She may try for the Seoul major position too. 
  10. 류호정 의원
    Assemblywoman Ryu Hojeong

    New blood from one of the minor left-wing parties, she's probably most famous this year for her choice of dresses worn on the Assembly floor. I'll let you search you own links for this one. 

Top Social Issues People in Korea 2020

Top Topical People in Korea 2020. Image: Twitter

This is an interesting list of "hot topic" people for 2020.

  1. 이용수 할머니
    Grandmother Lee Yong-soo

    One of the few surviving "Comfort Women," she became outspoken against severe corruption within the charity organization that supposedly raises and uses funds for the remaining women. It doesn't help matters that the head of the organization was found dead in her own bathroom. This is a weird and tragic story if only because it highlights how these women, famous for being "used" by Japanese soldiers, have been in some ways "used" even still today for political or financial gain by corrupt individuals. 
  2. 정경심 교수
    Professor Chung Kyung-shim

    Probably most noteworthy this year for being the wife of ousted Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Professor Chung is accused of having fabricated the credentials of her two children, an act which does not sit well in a place like Korea. [Update: sentenced to jail]  
  3. 전광훈 목사
    Reverend Jun Kwang-hoon

    De-facto leader of the right-wing movement, organizer of the the Taegukgi Warrior rallies, outspoken opponent of President Moon Jae-in.  See the entry for "Sarang Jeil Church" above for more on him. 
  4. 오덕식 판사
    Judge Oh Duk-shik

    One of the main judges presiding over the infamous "N-Room" scandal (see my other blog posts on top search terms this year for more on that, or just Google it). Judge Oh is unfortunately known for his habit of apparent lenient sentencing of sex criminals. 
  5. 가수 정준영
    Singer Jung Joon-young

    K-pop star who, along with a host of other male pop-stars, participated in the infamous "Burning Sun" prostitution and drug scandals of last year. Probably in the news this year for his receiving a 5 year sentence for his role. 
  6. 서지현 검사
    Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon

    Noteworthy during the #MeToo movement, accusing her superior of sexual harassment, and due to the allegations being made public, claimed to have suffered lack of career opportunities as a result of the stigma of exposure of herself and her superiors. Some therefore consider her a martyr for the cause of exposing rampant sexual harassment. But others see her as scapegoating and trying to place blame her own lack of career growth on unfounded allegations. Who knows? Not me, that's for sure.     
  7. 고유정
    Koh Yu-jeong

    The woman at the center of a gruesome murder that shocked the public last year when she dismembered her husband and may have also killed her stepson. The trial concluded this year with the upholding of a life sentence. 
  8. 임은정 검사
    Prosecutor Lim Eun-jeong
  9. 임미리 교수
    Professor Im Mi-ri

    An interesting figure, Professor Im of Korea University was formerly an avid supporter of President Moon, but wrote a now infamous column titled "민주당만 빼고" in which she argues against his policies and those of his party.
  10. 정은경 질병관리청장
    Director Jeong Eun-Kyeong

    Head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and obviously a very visible figure during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. I say "visible" with a grain of salt, because in what has got to be some of the lowest types of netizen behavior, many have pointed out that her lack of dyed hair and "tired" look project an image of resignation rather than confidence. I'll let you decide where you stand on that issue. 

And there you have it. What a wild ride. For more, you can also check out these other lists

  • Top Tweeted Korean Athletes
  • Top Tweeted Korean Sports Teams
  • Top Tweeted K-pop Accounts
at the full blog post put out by Twitter (in Korean) here: 

And if you'd like to see similar such lists from Google, Naver, etc, see my other post on End of Year roundup lists here:
10원 Tips: Year in Review posts

See you again next year.