[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Thursday, February 12, 2009

[South Korean beef protests]
Yesterday, our Digital Media class discussed the South Korean beef protests and what got me thinking was, as usual, if this could apply to Singapore. We discussed social media in a crisis.

Well for those unaware of what happened, it was the lifting of the Korean ban on US beef which was part of the negotiations on a free trade agreement. The ban on US beef was instated in 2003 following a case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease. Further adding fire to the incident was a TV programme PD Notebook which showed the dangers of US beef imports which were said to have been contaminated with mad cow disease.

From the case that was presented, it seemed that anger with the Government was a strong factor that triggered the mass protest. Protesters had made use of new media tools to spread rumours of that diapers that were made using materials from US cattle were harmful and infectious to babies. The rumours were spreading first through SMS, then to websites and blogs. These rumours were perpetuated using new media as citizens had distrust in mainstream media citing Government control.

I think there are several lessons that can be learnt here.

Firstly, it seemed that the Government had not armed itself on how to tackle untruths online. A lack of preparedness. Secondly, the Government did not have consultation exercises with the public on such issues. The public felt that the Government had made their decision and then aimed to carry it out. Thirdly, the Government had used the wrong channel to engage citizens. The furore was online but the Government chose to use mainstream media as a counter force. Fourthly, new media had an advantage over mainstream media in fostering the spread of untruths - the difference between static media (mainstream) and dynamic media (online). The Government had lost valuable time to counter what was spreading online. Lastly, citizens were not accepting of President Lee Myung-bak's public apology and labelled it as insincere.

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