New Media and Political Socialization of Teenagers: The Case of the 2008 Candlelight Protests in Korea

Article excerpt

In this study, we examine the political socialization of teenagers by focusing on the 2008 Candlelight Protests in Korea, with particular emphasis on the implication of technological variables of modern society-in this case, new media. In the 2008 protests, we find that the protests were triggered by online communities (known as cafés in Korea) for, in part, the purposes of entertainment and amusement. The leading actors were middle and high school students; participation at both personal and organizational levels supplemented each other to amplify the impact of the protests. Survey results reveal the Internet as a primary tool that teenagers use to obtain political information, organize, and mobilize. As well, females were more aggressive in their participation, as found from the differences in Internet usage trends between teenage girls and boys. This case illuminates the potential of new media in bringing revolutionary change to the political socialization patterns of teenagers. KEYWORDS: East Asian politics, South Korea, political socialization, new media, political participation.

IN 2008 A SERIES OF ANTIGOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATIONS OF HISTORIC magnitude occurred in Korea to protest the unequal agreement concerning US beef imports. These demonstrations, collectively referred to as the 2008 Candlelight Protests of Korea, started in earlyMay and lasted for approximately one hundred days, drawing an astonishing 3.5 million citizens to the streets of Korea. One of many key characteristics of the demonstrations was the emergence of a new political generation. The demonstration was triggered by teenagers, whose efforts were mainly responsible for the rapid spread throughout the public. The Internet and digital devices aided in the massive mobilization of these teenagers. At the peak of the protests, more than 50 percent of the protesters were teenagers (Kyunghyang Daily 2008; Seoul Daily 2008). The initiator of the candlelight protest was a high school student who used "Andante" as his online identity. He started a signature campaign for banning US beef imports and calling for the impeachment of President Lee Myung-bak. This online petition drive sparked widespread antigovernment sentiment, collecting approximately 1.39 million signatures in just one month.

In Korea, such large-scale teenager participation in protests was unprecedented. Unlike in Western culture, the social awareness or practice of political socialization of teenagers has traditionally been passive. Korea's Confucian culture and a quarter century of rule by authoritarian military governments helped to depoliticize teenagers. Even after the transition to democracy in 1987, excessive "education fever" and competition for college entrance have kept teenagers a depoliticized group. In addition, many political socializing agents failed to fulfill their duties to young people. Family customs have also emphasized obedience toward authority based on patriarchal order. At schools, learning has evolved around a culture that only seeks grades for grades' sake in order to secure future success. Naturally, topics of communication among peer groups have been limited to personal matters such as admission to school and entertainment news. Mass media, a type of indirect political socializing agent, also failed to develop programs that could enhance or promote teenagers' political identity and sense of participation.

These factors incited teenagers to remain indifferent on political matters and to simply comply with the society's political system. The emergence of teenagers as a group that takes initiative in social movements by raising issues and setting agendas should not be regarded as just another random social phenomenon. Rather, this development suggests that the former political socialization pattern is undergoing changes.

Rapid informatization of society, along with the social changes toward a post-Confucian culture after the turn of the century, started to instigate the political socialization of teenagers. …