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

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora