Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Korea in Cyberspace: National and Brand Images

The current political uproar in South Korea and the flood of images it has released are important politically, economically and culturally. The images emanating from South Korea these days help to create the image of this nation in North America, Europe an other parts of the world, as well as here on the peninsula. Use of the term "flood" to describe the flow of images is appropriate insofar as the internet and modern digital communications accelerate the diffusion of political information. Here in South Korea, former President Kim Dae Jung and others have observed that the country is experimenting with "Direct Democracy." Without doing a quantitative empirical study, I would hazard a guess that the current political activity in South Korea, centered as it is around the internet and new digital media, is having an effect on Korea's national image in the world. According to an article in the Korea Herald, South Korea's embassy in Washington D.C. surveyed 136 U.S.-based experts on July 12-13. The survey found that 60.2 percent of the respondents believed the anti-U.S. beef rallies and candlelight vigils would damage Korea's image among Americans, while 27.2 percent said that they would not.
Candlelight vigils in the Spring are an ideal place to exploit the new media. Think how easy it is to snap photographs or record videos with your cellphone, and then share these with netizens. By definition, sharing such images with netizens means that they are available to anyone in the world. In other words, they help to define Korea's national image and its place in cyberspace. The point of this post is simply to note that South Korea is building its national image, or its place in cyberspace. Once constructed, national images cannot easily be altered or torn down, for the simple reason that the digital images stay there in cyberspace. Some elements of the emerging image also seem clear: candlelight vigils, labor demonstrations and anti-government protests, anti-Americanism, genuine fear of American beef, gullibility to rumors about Mad Cow Disease, and so forth. These elements are mixing with South Korea's existing national image which includes such aspects as being an "IT Powerhouse," "Broadband Leader," and a country which places a high priority on education, science and technology generally.

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