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Thai Social Media Anti-Red Shirt Campaigns Draw Warnings
FEA20100628006637 – OSC Feature – Thailand — OSC Report 28 Jun 10
Thai academics have sounded the alarm over the appearance of online groups dedicated to harassing and mocking red-shirt members, warning the government’s failure to stop such campaigns could lead to further division and bloodshed. One of these newly emergent online groups, “Social Sanction”, posts personal information on red-shirt supporters and encourages its members to mete out “social punishment.” Academics warn these online campaigns, which they speculate the government quietly endorses, could create an environment “full of fear and hatred” and lead to open violence, outcomes at odds with ongoing government efforts to promote reconciliation.
Anti-Red-Shirt Groups Emerge on Facebook Following Protest
- Several anti-red-shirt online groups have appeared during and immediately following the two-month long United Front for Democracy Against the Dictatorship (UDD) protest in Bangkok, which culminated in the19 May crackdown, leaving 89 dead and dozens of buildings destroyed. Two of the most prominent of these groups are “Social Sanction,” which posts personal information about UDD supporters — dubbed “red shirts” — or anti-royalists, and “Enjoy Red Shirt Corpses,” which posts gruesome photos of dead protestors. The government as of 21 June 2010 has not blocked access to either of these online groups, despite Thailand’s otherwise strictly enforced legal prohibition against media and internet content that could breed social divisions or stoke unrest.
- “Social Sanction” first appeared on Facebook.comin Mach 2010 encouraging “social punishment” against UDD supporters and boasting 5,500 members, according to Krungthep Thurakit – a Thai-language daily with good coverage of economic and political issues (20 May). This group captured and displayed personal information of other Facebook.com users, whom they accused of being red-shirt supporters or opposing the monarchy. The victims’ addresses along with home and work numbers were posted, together with an admonition to report subversive incidents to the Department of Special Investigation, harass those identified, and pressure their employers to dismiss them. Facebook.com closed the “Social Sanction” group page in May, although their members have continued their campaign on other online platforms such as Fwdder.com.
- Another Facebook.com page “Enjoy Red-Shirt Dead Bodies”, created in May with approximately 700 members (Facebook.com, 17 June), displays extremely gruesome photos of red-shirt protesters killed during the government’s crackdown in May. A message posted by a Facebook.com user on the group’s page on 21 May read: “Last night I dreamed I saw the dead body of a red-shirt. I laughed with joy, because now our nation will be better off” (Facebook.com, 17 June). The “Enjoy Red-Shirt Dead Bodies” page remained online as of 21 June 2010, and not blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, which has blocked hundreds of other websites deemed harmful to society, including those supportive of the UDD cause.
Academics Warn Online ‘Witch Hunts’ Risk Renewed Strife
Thai academics and local press commentaries warned that these and other online campaigns may further divide Thailand’s already polarized society. Scholars in particular have blasted the government for allowing these groups to flourish and warned that, if left unchecked, these campaigns could spark further strife.
- A report in Prachatai — an independent online newspaper with a stance leaning toward socialist ideology and critical of the monarchy — carried statements by Sawitri Suksi, a Thammasat University lecturer, who termed “Social Sanction” an “online witch hunt.” The academic commented that the group appeared to be a collaborative intiative involving authorities as well as private citizens, noting that one individual, Wipat Sakunthai, was arrested immediately following his online “public impugnment” on “Social Sanction.” She further urged the government “to stop creating an atmosphere full of fear and hatred which could lead to unexpected violence” (7 May).
- Phuangthong Phawakharaphan, a political science scholar from prestigious Chulalongkon University, warned in Matichon – Thai-language daily popular for political news — that these hatred campaigns will deepen social rifts and exacerbate the red-shirt group’s “wounded feelings and wrath” (31 May).
Select Victims of the ‘Social Sanction’ Movement
- Wipat Raksakunthai, a businessman who allegedly supported the red-shirt movement, was arrested and charged with Lèse Majesté after posting a Facebook.com message deemed offensive to the monarchy, according to the National News Bureau — news bureau run by the government’s public relations department (30 April).
- The Nation, English-language daily with in-depth business and political coverage, reported that high school-aged red-shirt supporter Natthakan Sakundarachat claims she was refused a place at a university because of “Social Sanction.” Posts allegedly
from Natthakan appeared on the group’s page, which “Social Sanction” members called insulting to the monarchy. Natthakan said she also received on and offline death threats (28 May).
- According to the Post Today — Thai-language outlet providing good coverage of political and economic news — DHL, an international freight company, dismissed Wongwipha Ketchuloam after receiving harassing phone calls from “royalists” who claimed she made statements offensive to the monarchy (1 May).
[This item was originally filed as SEP20100628085015]
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