Doctored image of South Korean police 'protest' against opposition leader misleads online

As South Korea's opposition leader was investigated over bribery allegations, social media users shared a doctored aerial image that appeared to show police officers forming the Korean word for "detention" with their high-visibility vests as he arrived at the state prosecutor's office for questioning. Corresponding footage of the scene aired by local broadcasters shows police performing crowd control without forming any Korean letters or words.

"This is a phenomenon made possible thanks to a change in government. This is why the leader's identity is important. SBS footage," reads a Korean-language Facebook post shared on January 12.

'Change in government' appears to be a reference to South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol's election in March 2022.

The screenshot, which features the logo of South Korean broadcaster SBS in the top-right corner, appears to show police officers in yellow safety vests forming the Korean word for "detention."

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on January 12, 2023

The image, which was shared in similar Facebook posts here, here and here, surfaced as the leader of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party Lee Jae-myung was questioned at the Suwon District Prosecutors' Office on January 10 about bribery allegations.

The allegations involve donations to a football club he oversaw as mayor of Seongnam city from 2010 to 2018.

Crowds of both supporters and critics of Lee gathered outside the prosecutors' office to witness the first time a sitting opposition leader was questioned by state prosecutors.

Lee denies any wrongdoing and has accused prosecutors of spearheading a politically motivated campaign against him and his party.

Some Facebook users appeared to believe the image was genuine.

"It's surprising the police did such a thing. It would have been unimaginable under the spy-led government," one user commented, apparently referring to a baseless trope commonly aimed at former South Korean president Moon Jae-in about him being a North Korean spy.

"Wow, to think such a day would come. It looks like even the police were sick of Moon Jae-in," another user wrote.

Doctored image

Footage of Lee's arrival at Suwon prosecutor's office posted on SBS's YouTube page shows the original, undoctored image.

The video is titled: "Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung’s visit to the prosecutors’ office. Live at the Seongnam bureau of the Suwon District Prosecutors' Office."

The approximately 52-minute-long video shows a crowd of people cordoned off by police as Lee enters the prosecutors' office.

The corresponding scene to the doctored image can be seen at the 21:02 mark.

The captions in the SBS video read: "Leader Lee Jae-myung about to arrive at Seongnam bureau" and "Leader Lee Jae-myung will soon make a statement".

Below is a screenshot comparison of the doctored image shared on Facebook (left) and the corresponding scene from the video posted by SBS (right):

Screenshot comparison of the doctored image shared on Facebook (left) and the original live SBS broadcast (right)

The same scene was broadcast live by various South Korean broadcasters, including YTN and KBS. At no point did the police form the word "detention".

Satirical post

Furthermore, the doctored image appears to have been intended as satire.

A keyword search on Facebook found a post -- which appears to be the first instance of the doctored image -- in which the Facebook user commented that the image was just "for laughs".

The user previously posted a screenshot of the original SBS broadcast with a caption mocking the size of the crowd and claiming that there were far fewer Lee supporters at the scene than claimed by social media users supporting the opposition leader.