Twitter in Place Examining Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza through Social Media Activism

Samuel Gerald Collins

Abstract

In Korea, social networking sites are overwhelmingly utilized through smart phones; people tweet or update Facebook with their mobile devices. Like any social networking site, this means that people are making (and remaking) connections with each other, but it also means that people are connecting in complex ways to place. Even if geo-location is disabled, these social media still have this embodied dimension; they’re not just tweets, but tweets in a particular space and time. In Seoul, embodied practices of social media infuse spaces with diverse and networked meaning that interact (however weakly) with existing spatial systems. In this essay, I explore the diverse meaning of public space in Seoul through an analysis of Twitter traffic surrounding enormous protests in 2016 at Gwanghwamun Plaza calling for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye. People who protested against the President in Gwanghwamun Plaza were not only calling for her resignation, but they are also making strong claims to space that re-define the heterogeneous site as a space of protest. At the same time, they are not the only groups making claims on the plaza: conservative groups, merchants, commuters, tourists and various bots tweet other meanings through their interactions with the protest site, and these, too, add to the networked representation of Gwanghwamun Plaza. Ultimately, the paper suggests a theory of social media in urban settings which emphasizes complex interactions of space, representation, networked action, absence and presence.

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