Thais exploring digital democracy-Bangkok Post

March 17, 2010

Thailand’s digital democracy in action

Social network sites are becoming new political forums

As the red shirt movement heats up politics in Thailand, several non-politicians have been seeking ways to express their opinions as well as report the red shirt movement through popular social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, placing Thailand on the map of Digital Democracy along with many other countries.

Internet traffic has been surging dramatically since late February, after the Thaksin judgement day.

Local popular social website pantip.com has also tried hard not to be a place to spread any rumours, with its team of administrators closely monitoring the web content, according to Wanchat Padungrat, the founder of pantip.com.

However, there are still arguments between the two sides – red shirt and anti-red shirt – especially among the politically hardcore people in Rajadamnoen Cafe, which is an online political forum.

Sources in Thailand’s IT industry said there is a digital war being waged in the online world between the two sides of the political fence.

The webboards have shown a significant improvement with each party trying to convince neutral members to be on their side with their propaganda information rather than just mudslinging and blasting each other as in the past.

A number of Twitter users report their status around the protest areas and tweet non-violent messages while some red shirts have posted photos showing how large the protests are in order to persuade and give confidence to those who want to join the rallies.

Even some BlackBerry users, who use the BlackBerry Messenger program, have changed their profile picture to that of a symbol of non-violence.

This is a “cyber world war” where each side tries to give information that they want to repeat their right position. The government has asked some Twitter users to re-tweet or post non-violent messages to distribute the message to a wider audience. This shows that the government is using social networks in a smart way to make a peaceful campaign.

Facebook users have created Facebook groups for hosting quick active discussions and attracting attention to their group political viewpoints, such as Watch Red Shirt, which is persuading people to carry cameras and mobile phones to take pictures or film videos in the areas where protestors have gathered. There are also groups that push for non-violent approaches, such as the Stop Ruining Thailand project and the WeLoveThai campaign. Some Facebook users have also changed their profile picture to a non-violence symbol or logo in response to their political position.

However, some red shirts have created Facebook groups to insult the King and spread hate speech but these groups only have a few hundred members. On the other hand, many pro-monarchy groups are showing their respects to His Majesty and posting all the activities that the King has done for his citizens. Most of these groups have over 10,000 members.

Moreover, there have been some cases where pro-monarchy groups, after gaining a larger number of members, have changed to an anti-monarchy stance later.

The pro-royal groups report pages that insult the King to the Facebook administrators and help to monitor the illegal sites. Meanwhile, there are some new anti-Thaksin groups, notably Stop Thaksin Shinawatra from Poisoning the Kingdom of Thailand and 1,000,000 Strong Against Thaksin Shinawatra.

Internet traffic surges

According to True International Gateway, international traffic between March 7 and March 14 increased by 15-20 percent and domestic gateway to local consumer content increased by 5 percent during the same period. This is evidence that when a political situation occurs, Internet traffic increases in order to access relevant information.

Dr Wasan Pattara-atikom, project leader for traffy.nectec.or.th, which provides traffic information, said the traffic use of the sites during the four days from March 12-15 increased 5-10 times due to political situation, adding that around 10 percent of that traffic came from mobile users. There was also a 10-fold increase in Twitter.com/traffy.

Piya Tanthawichian, Chief Technical Officer, Internet Innovation Research Centre, the owner of Truehits.net, said since the judgement day on February 26 the Internet traffic for several news agency websites has increased by 50 percent. During the peak period the traffic reached around 70,000-80,000 visitors or unique IPs per day. Since then, with the continued uncertainty, the traffic has remained high.

English-language news websites have also witnessed substantial hits, especially the Bangkok Post website, which saw its traffic surge by 100 percent from more than 30,000 visitors per day to 60,000 to 70,000 visitors. Most of the traffic comes from United States and the United Kingdom.

This has helped the Bangkok Post site move up the ranks from top 10 to top three, similar to the Kom Chad Luek website’s ranking.

However, it should be pointed out that interest in the entertainment sections of Thai-language newspaper websites featuring gossip and star news has not declined.

This shows overseas interest in the red shirt movement in Thailand and local newspapers are one of the key channels where foreigners can access information apart from global news agencies. And the device to access this information for the majority of mobile net users is their iPhones.

The most frequent key word searches during the last week have been “red shirts” and “Sompean Eaksomya police hero” in the news sites.

Lese-majesty sites on the increase

According to Aree Jiworarax, Director of the Bureau of Information Technology Regulation under the Information and Communication Technology minister, there has been an increase in the number of lese-majesty websites. He said that the number of such sites has risen from 120 to between 150 and 160 sites per day. “The ministry has asked for court warrants and requested Internet Service Providers to block those websites so that they cannot be accessed in Thailand,” Aree said.

“However, in the case where such content is hosted in other countries or on global websites like YouTube and Facebook, we can only ask for cooperation to help to take down the offending content.

“Our Thai embassies in the US and Singapore mostly accept that the web owners admit that it is very hard to tackle this problem because reports of such cases come from around the world and the process takes time.

Moreover, the ministry lacks the resources to monitor the situation and the government has already cut its budget by 90 percent from 50 million baht to 5 million baht since last fiscal year in 2010.

However, this new fiscal year in 2011, the minister still proposed a budget of 50 million baht to train staff, boost the cyber-police volunteer from its current staff of 600 up to 20,000-30,000 and upgrade its system.

There has been talk of hiring professionals who can hack into the system to help track down the illegal content but due to the limited budget the bureau cannot afford to hire professionals,” Aree said.


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