[FOUNTAIN]‘Smart crowd’ could easily turn into mob

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[FOUNTAIN]‘Smart crowd’ could easily turn into mob

As Korea leads the worldwide cultural revolution of information and communication, Koreans have invented new forms of cultural collision and experiments.
The last presidential election produced the world’s first president with online support. The latest social movements and demonstrations show that the era of the “smart crowd” has begun. The conventional student and labor protests are no longer effective in Korea.
In sociopsychology, the phenomenon of escaping from a given crisis is called “panic,” and the crowd attacking a certain target is referred to as the “mob.” Armed with Internet and mobile phones, the new generation of youngsters boasts strong solidarity and swift mobility.
They can alter the ending of a TV drama series, change the election campaign culture, and mobilize hundreds of thousands of crowds for both festivals and protests. But are they a smart crowd or a smart mob?
The phenomenon is not limited to Korea. In recent years, anti-globalization protesters in Seattle, Quebec and Switzerland’s Davos, were not the prudent intellectual types but a smart crowd equipped with cutting-edge communication devices. Yet, in terms of violence, they acted the way irrational mobs do.
In the run-up for April’s National Assembly election, people are more concerned about the online sentiment instead of the public sentiment.
In order to win the election, or to change the climate, politicians are desperately seeking ways to dominate cyberspace. But when the cultural solidarity of the Internet generation is combined with a social movement, the lack of leadership is likely to incur considerable side effects.
Especially when the Internet promises anonymity and no one is held responsible for the online cultural phenomenon, uncontrolled distribution of messages and consequent acts of participation could elevate the chances of violence.
The accelerated distribution of information could provoke excessive guessing games and false accusations. If the country’s edge in information technology is to be reflected in the political culture, the Internet-savvy generation must become a truly smart crowd. In the new year, we hope and expect to see the smart moves of the smart crowd.

by Kim Seok-hwan

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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