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What Motivates a Citizen to Take the Initiative in e-Participation?: The Case of a South Korean Parliamentary Hearing

By Junyeong Lee, Jaylyn Jeonghyun Oh

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 12, Pages 56-61

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Only four years after the greatest number of voters in Korean history elected Park Geun-hye as the country's first female president in 2013, more than one million people gathered for a candle-lit protest in Seoul to also make her the first publicly ousted president of South Korea (Korea hereafter). Amidst these two forms of civic engagement—vote and protest—is a new form of political communication that gained limited attention but was also a surprise to the Korean public. That is, a particular citizen watching a live broadcast of the second hearing in the parliamentary investigation into a political scandal involving president Park and Choi Soon-sil, her former confidante, on December 7, 2016, alerted a member of the country's National Assembly to alleged perjury by Kim Ki-choon, a key political figure in the Choi Soon-sil scandal, via instant messenger KakaoTalk that immediately altered the probe. This message had a stunning effect on the political process and proved to be a landmark not only in this case but in the transformation of e-participation into a popular form of political communication driven by information and communications technology (ICT) worldwide.

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The emergence of e-participation had toppled the traditional invisible wall between ordinary citizens and the National Assembly. The Internet extended the exchange of information and thought among citizens, planners, and decision makers alike,7 but individual citizens' voices only rarely reach the Assembly. The tip-off message granted ordinary citizens influence comparable to that of elected politicians in the country's political culture. More important, public reporting of Kim Ki-choon's alleged perjury was led not by the government but by ordinary citizens through social media. But such citizen-led e-participation, unlike government-led e-participation, has received only limited scholarly attention despite the recent surge in the study of social media. The focus of most e-participation initiatives worldwide excludes their role as a way for citizens to engage in political decision making, defined by Alarabiat et al.1 as "truly [sic] participation" and as a method for linear communication.1,11 For example, despite the considerable promise of e-participation initiatives worldwide, most are limited to information delivery and communication, as explored by Alarabiat et al.1 and Dini and Sæbø.8 Focusing on the roles of citizens and social media in e-participation,24,26 a series of research projects by Porwol et al.21 reviewed the related literature tlooking to define a model integrating social participation and other forms of communication to capture the level of engagement,23 an e-participation evaluation model,17 and an ICT exploitation framework for e-participation,20 finding that existing models generally ignore "emerging phenomenon of spontaneous, citizen-led e-participation, particularly when hosted on a social-media platform."21 While citizen-led e-participation is one side of the duality of e-participation,21 citizen-led e-participation via social media is still in its infancy, even in fields related to e-participation, including citizen coproduction and collective action.16,22 There is thus no clear-cut definition of citizen-led e-participation recognized by most scholars. Building on the definition of e-participation by its earlier researchers,13,17,20,22,26 focusing on government-led initiatives as "... enhanced civic engagement through ICT enabling citizens to connect with elective representatives," here we focus on citizen-led initiatives involving voluntary and spontaneous participation through social media from a citizen's perspective.


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