Thais Turn to the Internet for Relief

BY THAILAND'S TROUBLES
May 20, 2010

Weapons. What comes to mind? Guns, grenades and bayonets? What about the pen? Is the mobile phone mightier than the sword today?

 

Shake anybody old enough to drive a motorcycle upside down by the ankles and among the odds and ends falling out of his pockets is a mobile phone, perhaps two.

Walk into five homes in Thailand and at least one will have a computer (maybe two) hooked up to the web by broadband. The country now has about 17 million Internet users.

Tabloids frequently post clips of superstars or politicians caught in compromising situations – a clip being a video shot with a mobile phone. Thailand's “clip culture” – from trading films, pictures, ring tones, wallpapers, games and more – is as strong, vibrant and profitable as anywhere in the world.

Having a mobile phone and internet access in most households greatly affects the way information, ideas and issues flow across society, subsequently changing what people know, understand and think about.

What happens when a society switches from off to on? In an offline society people are passive consumers of information moving relatively slowly. In an online society people are active consumers, producers and transmitters of information, almost instantly. In an online society everybody is a node. Each is an element of the society network.

In a connected society people are able to react quickly to information, share it and find a common cause for discussion and action. In Thailand barely a day after the clash and deaths at Ratchadamneon on April 10th, enterprising vendors where already offering CDs and DVDs of the escalating violence – mostly compiled from videos shot with camera phones and posted on different websites.

The ongoing violence in Bangkok, with at least another 42 people have been killed, drives more people to keep themselves safe and updated through Facebook and Twitter.

Thai membership of Facebook hit 2 million in January, a tenfold increase in just a year. The Nation also reports that there are 39,000 active Twitter users in the country.

Everyone right now takes photos and videos with their phones, and publishes them directly to different websites and media platforms. The convenience of these handheld devices and the immediacy that is brought about by the internet makes everyone a citizen journalist. Not only can family members and friends get real-time updates, but so can practically anyone in the world who is hooked up.

Patrick Winn of Global Post writes, “The instinct to digitally document every beating, every grenade blast, every corpse is pervasive in Bangkok. Within hours of each new clash, footage is circulated on Facebook, Twitter and Thai-language Web boards.”

 

A Red Shirt protester keeps himself and his family updated through his mobile phone.

A Red Shirt protester keeps himself and his family updated through his mobile phone.

Photo credit: Thailand's Troubles

 

The phenomenon of the Red movement, its rapid development, its reach into every village and perhaps even every army platoon and police station, as well as its power to mobilize and spread information within the state, may not have been possible without mobile phones.

Of course social movements have grown and greatly affected other societies, such as Nepal, Iraq and Vietnam. But to do so requires people to devote more time and effort in keeping themselves updated with current events, which means less time and effort to their livelihood and household.

Thailand is probably the first connected society to experience such deep civil discord, which may even lead to a state of civil war. The current situation may have been a direct consequence of being a web-savvy and social media hungry society.

 

The author also blogs at Thailand's Troubles.

 

For latest news on Thailand, visit:

The Thai Report

Bangkok Clashes: Pictures, Videos and Twitter Reports

Bangkok Dangerous: Street Battles May 2010

CNN iReport on Bangkok