This study examines the way that three groups of citizens (adolescents, housewives, and the politically active) socially constructed the mad-cow issue in Korea in 2008. In particular, the effects of political and social influences, group value systems, and online learning patterns are investigated. Quantitative data from three websites is combined with qualitative sources, including newspapers and online message boards. The results reveal that despite different learning patterns, adolescents focused on factual information while the other groups took a more interpretive approach, and all three groups initially constructed the issue as one of health security. However, following government announcements, politically active citizens came to see the issue through an anti-government lens. Rather than facilitating an improvement in understanding between the government and the politically active, government communication was instead the most influential external factor on the anti-government construction of the issue. This study suggests that active two-way communication between all parties involved, including the government, is needed to improve social learning, especially when it occurs in online communities.
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