News By/Courtesy: Gunjan Dayal | 26 Jun 2020 21:49pm IST

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 79 flash mobs in universities from February 21 through March 14.
  • Twitter has become the main space for freedom of expression in Thailand.
  • Questions for the future and efficacy of online activism.

Hope for political change in Thailand grew stronger in 2020, following the dissolution of the opposition Future Forward Party by the constitutional court following a wave of student protests across the country. This decision triggered flash mobs against Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his authoritarian regime that has been in place from 2014 onward. According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group, there were at least 79 flash mobs in universities from February 21 through March 14. This wave of demonstrations, called the phenomenon of youthquake, is a result of rising political consciousness among Thai youth. With young people on their side, there was potential for pro-democracy groups to oust the pro-military government. But then came COVID-19, accompanied by government restrictions. The emerging Thai civilian community was soon struck by an emergency decree prohibiting public assembly and moving activists online. But Thai authorities have upped the monitoring of online activities. The government even has an Anti-Fake News Center dubbed the "Fake News Centre" by critics who accused it of focusing on curbing freedom of expression rights, rather than dealing with disinformation. The center is known to censor information and criticism regarding the management of the pandemic by the government. It has even accused citizens of stating obvious truths. Danai Ussama, a Phuket-based musician, was arrested by police under the Computer Crimes Act after writing on an online forum that there was no COVID-19 screening at Suvarnabhumi airport, where he arrived in March 2020 after a stay in Spain. But harsh action has failed to stamp out dissent. The disappearance of political exile Wanchalerm Satsaksit in Cambodia on June 4 has reignited protests against the pro-military government, with the following day more than 400,000 retweets using the hashtag # SaveWanchalearm. Amid restrictions, Twitter has become the main space for freedom of expression in Thailand. One of the viral hashtags during COVID-19 has been #nnevy, which emerged when Thai Twitter users sparked a war against Chinese nationalist trolls and created “new pan-Asian solidarity”. While Twitter has been the platform of choice for anti-youth activists, two events that happened in close succession led to a drop of general confidence in the platform. On May 13, the official Thailand Twitter account @TwitterThailand tweeted its first message, “Sawasdee khrap, Thailand” (Hello, Thailand!). On May 19, Twitter announced the update of its privacy policy to share users’ activities and IP addresses with “partners” to enhance targeted advertisements. Following these reports, # NoTwitterThailand topped the trending page of the country as Thais saw this as part of the government 's online surveillance and free speech protection policy. Far more users began to question the platform's security and privacy after Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, tweeted about his recent conversation with Asia-Pacific 's senior director of public policy & philanthropy for Twitter, based in Singapore. Thai Twitter users quickly began calling to stop using Twitter and move to “alternative platforms” that are open-source and decentralized. One popular alternative platform is “Minds”, especially after influencer Sarinee Achavanuntakul tweeted, “Say goodbye to Twitter and meet at Minds.” Minds have also already installed the Thai language to accommodate Thai users. This new distrust of Twitter poses questions for the future and efficacy of online activism. in the case of Thailand, we continue to witness a “youthquake” and increased political awareness among Thai students. We also continue to witness how open spaces online have led to a more critical discourse regarding the government. Authorities’ manipulation of the information space has simply accelerated this process.

THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT INTEND TO HURT THE SENTIMENTS OF ANY INDIVIDUAL, COMMUNITY, SECT, OR RELIGION ETCETERA. THIS ARTICLE IS BASED PURELY ON THE AUTHOR'S PERSONAL VIEWS AND OPINIONS IN THE EXERCISE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT GUARANTEED UNDER ARTICLE 19(1)(A) AND OTHER RELATED LAWS BEING FORCE IN INDIA, FOR THE TIME BEING.

Section Editor: Pushpit Singh | 26 Jun 2020 21:54pm IST


Tags : #YouthquakeInThailand

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