Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Civic Media Project

Eric Gordon, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Another Promise’s Digital Civic Network and Samsung

Chaebong Nam and Hyun-Chol Cho

Another Promise’s Digital Civic Network and Samsung   

Another Promise, a South Korean film released in 2014, describes how a father seeks justice in the courts after his daughter has died of leukemia contracted at a Samsung semiconductor plant where unprotected workers were exposed to toxic chemicals. This is the first film in Korea cinema history funded entirely by crowdfunding and individual investments. Its success can be largely, although not entirely, attributed to digital media.

As in many other societies, digital media is changing the way people engage in civic life in Korea. Understanding these changes is challenging and may require new analytical tools. Zuckerman’s two-dimensional matrix, introduced in the web posting “Beyond the Crisis in Civics” (Available here), provides a useful framework for analyzing the complex phenomenon of civic engagement in the digital age. One axis of the matrix shifts from “thin” to “thick,” and the other from “symbolic” to “impactful.” On the first axis, “thin” activities include those of little commitment––such as signing a petition, clicking “Like” on Facebook pages, or retweeting Twitter mentions; “thick” activities require substantial commitment or action to find solutions—such as developing organizing strategies for a political campaign. On the second axis, “symbolic” engagement includes activities of “making voice,” the purpose of which is to show support, rather than make an immediate change. “Impactful” engagement on the other hand is directed towards concrete results such as policy changes. Among the four possible combinations, “thin and symbolic” engagement seems applicable initially to the new civic culture created by digital media, but it also can potentially lead to thick and impactful influences. The transition from the former to the latter is not automatic, however, because thin and symbolic phenomena are likely to be volatile and often remain in echo chambers in many situations. Another Promise’s digital civic network illustrates how a particular small voice leaped from “thin and symbolic” into “thick and impactful” influences against Samsung, which is often seen in Korea as almost invulnerable.

Phase 1: The First Stage of Crowdfunding and "Digital Flock" 

In June 2005, Yun-Mi Hwang, then a 20-year-old woman, was diagnosed with acute leukemia 20 months after beginning work at one of the Samsung semiconductor plants. She died in 2007. Her father, Sang-Ki Hwang, soon began a long legal battle against the world’s largest electronics company, with the intention of proving that his daughter’s death was caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at the plant. Yun-Mi was among the numerous victims beginning in the late 1990s whose deaths were allegedly from the same causes. Still, this event barely drew public attention; Samsung repeatedly denied that the work environment contributed to this fatal disease.

A newspaper article about Yun-Mi’s case inspired the film director Tae-Yun Kim to bring this issue to the screen. Soon after, the best filmmaking staff and crews in Korea volunteered to undertake the project pro bono. The filmmaking team, however, faced an unexpected financial issue resulting from major commercial investors’ abrupt retraction of their investments. This action was presumably due to their reluctance to be involved in a film that was critical of Samsung. The only funding option left for the filmmakers was crowdfunding—originally intended solely for marketing.

                       Image 1: A Screen Shot of the Teaser Trailer of Another Promise at Goodfunding

In November 2012, the filmmaking team launched a crowdfunding project using an online platform, Good Funding. Within one month, about $100,000 was gathered from approximately 2,000 people. Ki-Ho Yoon, the film’s producer, said that crowdfunding contributors of the first stage were a group of people who were actively informed and critical of various social issues, and who were already aware of the Samsung workers’ occupational diseases. Attracting the attention of a “digital flock” beyond this small and informed group was a challenge.

Video 1: The Teaser Trailer for Another Promise at the Official Webpage

Another Promise’s filmmaking team initiated a strategic movement to avoid digital echo chambers. In January 2013, Yoon launched an official webpage for a second crowdfunding effort called The Filmmaking Co-Op, as well launching a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The team hired a media specialist to facilitate not only communication and advertising, but also fundraising.

In February 2013, the filmmakers began to appear on well-known podcasting shows that critically examine controversial issues largely overlooked in the mainstream media. Nonetheless, these podcasting shows drew audiences who might have already participated in the first round of crowdfunding. Thus, these appearances were not as effective at developing support beyond the first “digital flock.” No connection had yet been made with the diverse public offline; promotion was still hovering around the second quadrant of “thin and symbolic.”

Phase II: Escaping Echo Chambers and Creating Thick and Impactful Changes

Video 2: The Staff Slide for Another Promise, Posted on the Facebook Page

A breakthrough took place in April 2013 when the filmmakers appeared on one particular podcast show hosted by a hip-hop musician. Most of the audience were young fans of the hip-hop musician and not necessarily socially active or informed. After this appearance, however, the filmmakers received dramatically increasing public attention. It is believed that once the film became connected with a new audience, interest in the film snowballed and news readily spread across varied networks at an increasing rate. Over the next two months, roughly 7,000 more people donated about $1 million in exchange for cinema tickets or DVDs. The effect is evident in the list of donors at the end of the film credits. Donations continued after official production and distribution ended; 8,290 people made contributions as of June 2014.

This movement provided the funding needed for the production. More importantly, it succeeded in publicizing the issues that motivated the film’s story and helped form a strong and widespread digital civic network. Yoon made it clear, nevertheless, that such dramatic attention––what we see as “thick and impactful change”––did not automatically follow the appearance on the podcast show in and of itself. The show certainly brought the filmmakers the new audience they needed, but the main reason for the success was the film’s story. The controversial topic, which most people did not think could be treated publicly in Korean society, had broad appeal.

After production, the film successfully debuted in October 2013 at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) under the title Another Family (this title is a famous slogan in Samsung’s commercials and was altered to Another Promise before distribution to avoid potential legal action). Mainstream media, including television broadcasting as well as news and movie magazines, called attention to the film. It seemed that success, a tangible result of the film’s first substantial transition to “thick and impactful” change, was just around the corner.

Phase III: Unexpected Hindrance, Crowd-distribution, and New Participatory Culture

Another Promise was ranked first for audience anticipation the week before its release. Prior to that, however, major film distributors drastically reduced, without prior notice, the number of theaters screening the film. Yoon felt powerless to respond and was about to give up. Then he saw ordinary people and NGOs that were already well-networked online and offline demanding that commercial film distributors and independent theaters in their own locales run the film. Social media (SNS and Twitter) and the Another Promise webpage became a central arena for this action once again. The crowdfunding system turned into crowd-distribution at that point. Through social media and the film’s webpage, people donated tickets to those who wanted to watch the movie but could not afford the ticket price (such as young students). Information was shared about screenings in their area, and supporting comments were posted about the film. In the fourth week of its release, more theaters began screening the film––a very unusual box-office pattern. In May 2014--at the height of public attention to Another Promise sparked by such digital activism--Samsung made its first official apology to the workers who suffered through cancer and to their families. This was seven years after Hwang first initiated legal action.

Although the film barely broke even financially (500,000 people watched it, short of the original target of 700,000), Yoon did not see the film as a failure, but saw it as confirming the possibility of change and promoting civic solidarity.

From the filmmaker’s perspective, the film was made by a civic network of 10,000 ordinary people, not just by the filmmaking team. Above all, without the Internet dramatically boosting the development of an active civic network, the film would not have come into existence at all. Yoon also stressed that the foundation of the film was in the long-standing offline activism surrounding Hwang (Yun-Mi’s father) and Sharp (a group organized by victims of the chip factories’ toxicity and their families). Another Promise was a tipping point for change, but the film would not have been nearly as successful without these earlier contributions.

Many of the meaningful accomplishments of Another Promise can be attributed to its use of digital media to change public opinion. The film’s most notable triumph was to break the stronghold of self-censorship and fear of Samsung’s influence. Indeed, what the Another Promise’s digital civic network fought against was not Samsung per se; rather, it was a fear of Samsung deeply entrenched in people’s minds.

Another Promise was not simply a film––it heralded a new phenomenon of digital activism and participatory culture in Korea. It shows how thin and symbolic actions can create a collective civic power that enables real change in the midst of institutionalized censorship in Korea during this digital age.

This case study is based on an interview with Ki-Ho Yoon, a producer of Another Promise, conducted on June 6, 2014. 


Colleoni, E., A. Rozza, and A. Arvidsson. 2014. "Echo Chamber or Public Sphere? Predicting Political Orientation and Measuring Political Homophily in Twitter Using Big Data." Journal of Communication 64 (2): 317-32. 

Garrett, R. Kelly. 2009. "Echo chambers online?: Politically motivated selective exposure among Internet news users." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14: 265-285.

Kahne, Joseph, et al. 2012. "Youth Online Activity and Exposure to Diverse Perspectives." New Media & Society 14 (3): 492-512. 

Comment on this page

Discussion of "Another Promise’s Digital Civic Network and Samsung"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Related:  The Community Media Drupal ProjectSocial Media Use and Political Activism in Turkey: 140journos, the Post of Others, and Vote and BeyondGalas: Mobilizing and Managing Volunteer Humanitarian Efforts Online During Euromaidan Protests in UkraineCitizen journalism and Civic Inclusion: Access A Case of Online-to-Offline ActivismThe Tilburg Public Library KnowledgecloudDigital Empowerment AcademyInternet Parties: The Internet as Party, Policy, Platform, & Persuasive SymbolismIt Gets Better ProjectMobilizing Collective Urban Actions through MicroActsThe 2013 Protests in Brazil The 2013 Gezi Park Protest and #resistgeziImplication of social media on electoral participation in IndiaFrom #destroythejoint to far reaching digital activism: Feminist revitalisation stemming from social media and reaching beyondBinders Full of Election Memes: Participatory Culture invades the 2012 U.S. Election“Bury Until They Change Their Ways”: The Digg Patriots And/As User-Generated CensorshipMídiaNINJA and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in BrazilBlogging for Truth: Ai Weiwei’s Citizen Investigation Project on China’s 2008 Sichuan EarthquakePOPPYN: Presenting Our Perspective on Philly Youth NewsHarrasment and Karen Klein: A Case StudyPop-Up Newsroom: “We Are Where You Are”Singapore Memory Project: Producing Public Memory through Social MediaCommunity Radio as Civic Media: The case of Radio al-Balad 92.4FM in Amman, JordanThe Se Non Ora Quando Social Movement in ItalyInnovation in the Absence of a State: Mobile Money in the Somali TerritoriesThe PolyXpress Mobile Ethnographic Storytelling SystemKony 2012: Using Technology for EmpathyConnected MessagesTwitter Use and Negative Campaigning: A Case Study from the World’s Largest Election#aufschrei – The Role of Twitter for Feminist Activism and as a Platform for Alternative PublicsNewsActivist: Using globally networked writing to facilitate cross-campus dialogue and engagementMobilizing from above: Government use of ICTs for state and nation building in EthiopiaBecoming Civic: Fracking, Air Pollution and Environmental Sensing TechnologiesCivic Media for Civic Intelligence: Product and Process in a Dynamic, Student-led Research and Action LaboratoryCuban Blogosphere: an Scenario for Political Debate and DissentAn #EpicFail #FTW: Considering the Discursive Changes And Civic Engagement of #MyNYPDWebNabludatel: a Russian Electoral Observation App38 DegreesUnited Colors of DissentExploring Net Neutrality with Mozilla WebmakerCitizenship and Digital Mobilization in BrazilFort Vancouver Mobile ProjectIran, the U.S., and Online DiplomacyMissing Intentionality: the Limitations of Social Media Analysis for Participatory Urban DesignThe Human Rights Campaign Facebook LogoPivot: Surreptitious Communications Design for Victims of Human TraffickingAlternative 13 News: A New way to Involve Young Citizens in NGDO Cooperation Work Through Social Media and GamingMoving from Perceptions to Realities: Lessons Learned from HollowMarriage equality, Facebook profiles pictures, and civic participationSocial Auditing & Transparency: Gas Cylinder Distribution in IndiaWebsite to Weibo: Activating the Local Communication Network and Civic Engagement in a Diverse CityHorizontal Networking and the Music of Idle No MoreIdle No More by Liz (beta)Room to Tell: Designing Affectively Engaging Civic Opportunities with New Media for Adolescents Hospitalized with Cystic FibrosisCityBeat: A Social Media Data Visualization Platform for JournalistsYour Story Goes Here: A Case Study Investigating Digital Storytelling and City BuildingStrike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee: Building a Debt Resistance MovementPadres y Jovenes Unidos: Student Empowerment through Critical Media LiteracyHacking Politics: Civic Struggles to Politicize TechnologiesProcurement Disclosure in the Slovak Republic“More Than A Quota”: Youth-Led Creative Arts and Advocacy About the Stop & Frisk PolicyUkranian Crowdmapping of the '12 ElectionsThe #WalkMyWorld ProjectMeu Rio