News / Asia

    Q&A: The Effect of Social Media on Thai Politics

    FILE - A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone.
    FILE - A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone.
    Mike Fussell
    Political division in Thailand appears to be just as visible online as it is on the streets of Bangkok. Social media watchers say the Thai capital is the city with the most Facebook users in the world; in turn, the way people are talking about politics in the country is being shaped by social media in a large way.
       
    Online political communication is becoming more personal as debate throughout the country intensifies. As a result, people are increasingly defriending each other on Facebook. Defriending refers to removing someone from a user’s social network. Once this occurs, a user will no longer be able to see pictures, comments and statuses in their newsfeed of that person.
     
    Analysts say this opt-out attitude toward political discussion isn’t healthy for Thailand’s political system as a whole. When a person takes themselves out of the conversation, they claim, a lack of diverse and competing voices threatens to further polarize the political climate.   
     
    VOA's Mike Fussell spoke with Matthew Phillips, a lecturer in modern Asian history at Aberystwyth University, in Great Britain, about the effect Facebook is having on politics in Thailand as the social media company celebrates its tenth birthday on February 4.
     
    FUSSELL: How is social media, especially Facebook, playing a role in how people communicate their political views in Thailand? Is it impacting the overall discourse in a substantial way?
     
    PHILLIPS: There is no question that, over the past four years, Thais have increasingly moved online to articulate their political opinions. Today, there are 25 million people on Facebook. They use it in a number of ways to establish their own political views as well as assert and regulate the way in which they are participating in politics. 
     
    FUSSELL:How much of an impact has social mediahad on the elections going on in Thailand?
     
    PHILLIPS: The act of going to a ballot box and casting your vote is obviously something that has to happen in the real world. It’s also something that is being regulated through current political discourse.
    That being said, you can’t really see the current discourse without understanding the role of social media.
     
     In times gone by, where media generally is regulated through international or local channels, you clearly have different sides of opinion. These things have to be negotiated to sell to the right markets and to create narratives of both inclusion and exclusion. The problem with social networking is that it can be really authoritarian in the way it establishes what is socially acceptable.
     
    So, the act of defriending is having sort of serious repercussions for individuals.Those that feel a sense of responsibility to their friendship groups are much more aware of the politics of these groups because of what they’re experiencing in both their online and real identities. This does have an effect on how they see their role. 
     
    In the current election, there is no question that’s happened on both sides. We’ve also seen a very significant campaign to mobilize people to get out and vote which has done quite a good job of distancing itself from open support of the current government.Instead, it’s seeing itself as a sort of civil action group.
     
    FUSSELL: Are people primarily using social media as a way to have their voices heard or are they using it to organize protests and other things of that nature?
     
    PHILLIPS:  Definitely, to organize as well. The great thing about social media, for those people who aren’t on the street protesting, is it allows them to keep up to speed and to keep their group contained while things are happening elsewhere. This also means that we’ve seen people use Facebook to mobilize right from 2010.
     
     When these largely middle class people, who were the first to join Facebook, were opposed to the protests, they formed very strong opinions about what was happening on the streets.  Particularly when they were unable to go onto the streets, you saw an enormous amount of activity on Facebook.
    Then, after the protest, there was a campaign to mobilize people on Facebook to go onto the streets and then clean them up. That can be seen as tangible evidence of how the social networking world and the real world are interacting in very interesting ways.
     
    FUSSELL: How is the act of defriending someone on Facebook somewhat polarizing the political discussion in Thailand?
     
    PHILLIPS: We all know that the process of being blocked or defriended on Facebook can be a very challenging experience. We have heard of many cases of people who would have to negotiate those relationships and have had to deal with what it means to be defriended. That can be very difficult.
     
    Thailand has been politically very difficult for many years now and people, for that reason, are very cautious about what they might say in public. Yet, online those things are much harder to negotiate when the country is divided and polarized as much as it currently is. That is a very significant effect.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora