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Keywords:

  • Environmental risk;
  • Internet;
  • risk communication;
  • social amplification

This article analyzes the dynamic process of risk amplification in the Internet environment with special emphasis on public concern for environmental risks from a high-speed railway tunnel construction project in South Korea. Environmental organizations and activists serving as social stations collected information about the project and its ecological impact, and communicated this with the general public, social groups, and institutions. The Internet provides social stations and the public with an efficient means for interactive communication and an open space for active information sharing and public participation. For example, while the website of an organization such as an environmental activist group can initially trigger local interest, the Internet allows this information to be disseminated to a much wider audience in a manner unavailable to the traditional media. Interaction among social stations demonstrates an amplifying process of public attention to the risk. Analyses of the volume of readers’ comments to online newspaper articles and public opinions posted on message board of public and nonprofit organizations show the ripple effects of the amplification process as measured along temporal, geographical, and sectoral dimensions. Public attention is also influenced by the symbolic connotations of risk information. Interpretations of risk in religious, political, or legal terms intensify public concern for the environmental risk.