Friday, June 13, 2008

South Korea: power to the netizens

It would have been unthinkable only a couple years ago. The most new-media savvy group of people in South Korean society -- teenagers -- have put seemingly unstoppable momentum behind a political cause.

Protests against US beef imports have brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets and threaten to topple the government.

It began as a movement in South Korea's new media space. South Korea is widely regarded as the "most wired" country in the world. And who are its most wired citizens? Ronda Hauben, "citizen journalist" for South Korea's OhmyNews explains:
At first, the candlelight demonstrations were initiated by middle school and high school students, especially middle school girls, using their cell phones and the Internet. In early May, it was common to see middle and high school students at the demonstrations, wearing their school uniforms. The candle girl, a middle school girl holding a lit candle, became the symbol of the protests.
This raises some concerns. Are members of this age group really ready to play a leadership role in society? Is this demographic not particularly vulnerable to innuendo, marketing, and propaganda? Do they have the life experience to put an issue -- i.e. the threat of mad cow disease -- in perspective?

Because to this observer, the scale of the reaction seems out of proportion to the magnitude of the threat. Relative to other problems facing a modern society, it's hard to fathom why US beef imports ought to top a teenager's list of concerns.

Beginning in late March, I blogged about "the anti-CNN" campaign of Chinese netizens. That movement seems to bear at least some superficial resemblance with the anti-US beef campaign. Might both netizens' movements have made a similar mistake? About the Chinese campaign I blogged:
. . . therein lies the fundamental problem with the netizens campaign . . . their disinclination to approach alleged evidence . . . with a critical mindset.

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