Saturday, April 10, 2010

Twitter Wars in Thailand

People tend to be ambivalent about Twitter, a website that allows users to post short sentences and phrases about what's going on in their lives and to share their views on issues. People tweet on everything, ranging from eating delicious pie to hating their boss's choice in pop music. At first just an amputated feature of facebook, twitter has exploded in the last year with many celebrities and politicians using the site to reach out to supporters. With its lightening fast upload rate, spur of the moment writing, and easy accessibility, it was only a matter of time before twitter became a powerful political weapon. Everyone from Joe Biden, to Sarah Palin, to bored members of Congress have adopted twitter. And now an all out twitter war is blowing up in Thailand.

To make a long story short, Thailand is currently facing massive political turmoil. The politically underrepresented working class has risen up and demanded the dissolution of an elitist government that was voted into office after a military coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, the richest man in Thailand, was universally believed to be corrupt, but was also a populist and the first politician to acknowledge the poorer regions of Thailand. Thaksin was forced from the country, but his millions of supporters are not content to return to the shadows. For the past two years they have staged ever increasing protests against the government.

It's a colorful rebellion. The protesters wear red shirts and the royalists wear yellow (the royal color of the revered king of Thailand). In some ways, it's a war of publicity. The red shirts have been able to muster tens of thousands of people, clogging the streets of major cities in Thailand, taking over hotels and other commercial buildings, attacking and occupying government buildings, and shutting down parts of the Thai economy. The international media has grabbed hold of the protests and the government's situation seems more and more unstable.

Somewhat outnumbered on the streets, the royalists have turned to internet media in an attempt to gain an advantage in domestic and international sympathy. Twitter seems to be a preferred weapon. Many of the red shirts are rural poor and have never used a computer in their lives, but the yellow shirts, overwhelming middle and upper class, are very familiar with the internet. As a result, they have overwhelmed the red shirts on the twitter battlefield, spreading fact and fiction across the international scene. Even government officials are taking part. When the Government House was damaged by a grenade last week, the prime minister's office broke the news via tweet.

Who could have known that a website that many used to think was extremely annoying would become a powerful tool of the top tiers of government? Certainly not me. Maybe the obviously royalist Tweety Bird.
-Ted Gault, former hostel intern

No comments: