Social Media and the Red Shirt Revolution essay

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Social Media and the Red Shirt Revolution

Most scholars are in conflict with regard to the subject of revolution in the age of social media. Until now, revolution has been considered a top-down process. In Thai situation, things might have been different. The Red Shirt Revolution in Thailand was one of the first of the "Twitter" revolutions, that is one that was fueled by social media and Web 2.0 technology. Since then, other revolutions have come as well. The lone citizen is now no longer on their own. The dissident in Chiang Mai now can commiserate with their brother or sister in Tahrir Square and plan revolution on a country to country or even on a global basis. Even as this writer types up a dissertation proposal, demonstrators coordinate strategy on a global basis to protest corporate greed. It is with this in mind that this study looks back at the Red Shirt Revolution, its Web 2.0 technology and how this nexus of politics and technology will continue to affect Thai communications in the near future. The paper concludes that the homeland conflict spilled over into social and business contacts and political engagements and that the effects will be very long reaching, including affecting the basis of what Thais think about their very nationhood itself.

Introduction

Globalization has increased cross-border migrations, communications and information flows. Consequently, it enables the Thai diaspora to involve and build networks between the country of origin and the diaspora more easily. This paper will describe the concept of globalization and Revolution in Thailand as it relates to social media and its effectiveness. Also, the study will try to gauge the ongoing effects of Web 2.0 technology since the Red Shirt Revolution. The pervasiveness of Web 2.0 social media and the socially connected Web has changed the power dynamics between governments and citizens, with organizations using online social networks with varying success to recruit members, promote issues and raise money (Phahlamohlaka 2010, 57). This author will try to find out what the status of the new medium is, either as a force against or for oppression, or rather somewhere in between.

Insurgent media is being used by opposition forces to combat the establishment forces who control the corporate media. This insurgent media includes blogging and twitter, regular email list serves, Google groups and others to play a major role in disseminating opposition information and views. Unfortunately for the Red Shirts, the reach of the new technologies was still limited to mostly urban areas, so the role of social media as a change agent was still limited as opposed to more recently during the Arab Spring. However, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter brought together diverse communities (new to the technology) to support a cause and created new communities as well. These were hitherto formerly unserved communities. Mobile phones and community radio (many times the podcasts are carried on social media sites) can now be employed to connect small rural communities. Now, these communities provide their own news, diminishing the power of major corporate and establishment news organizations. Instead, they focus more on the local issues that mattered most such as education, health and other subjects. At the same time, over-fragmentation of the news may take away from the appeal of the imagined communities that constitute the nation. In its place, there is a danger that conservative and reactionary peasant parochialism will work against democratic change, such as we saw in the Yellow Shirt victory (Moksnes and Meilin 2010, 49-50).

However, in Thailand, opposition forces still succeeded in welding together a cohesive coalition using the new Internet technologies. The Red Shirt protests began with a gathering of 150,000 people on March 12th, 2010 and were coordinated through a combination of old off-line organizing and new online social networking. This was followed up by covert radio and satellite television broadcasts. Prior to the social media mobilizations, news, information and dialogues were exchanged on bulletin boards and news. The Thai Red Shirt identity was formed around the collective belief that the current government was in reality an illegitimate front for commercial, aristocratic and military elites that had overturned the electoral decision of the people by force in a coup d'etat (Noblet 2010, 29-30).

Statement of the Research Problem

Thailand has been continually plagued by political conflicts since late 2005. Unfortunately for this country, the transition from military rule to a more democratic society has not been successful. For Thailand, civil-military relations have failed as the institutionalization of civilian control in Thailand has stalled. Civilians in the country understandably overestimated their ability to steer the Thai military establishment through robust action, thereby, provoking the military crackdown.

This has led also to the deterioration of tourism and the general economy due to fear of renewed violence. The image of Thailand as 'the land of smiles' is gone as social harmony has been shattered on an unprecedented scale. This paper's research is concerned with how this political revolution was helped along by social media technology, its continued effects in Thailand and its effects upon the sister revolutions that seem to spreading as social media percolates throughout the world as a whole to give peasants and lower classes an unprecedented ability to be heard above their social stations (Croissant 2011, 1-2).

History of Conflict

The case of Thailand is especially complicated. In the case of Thailand many structural models have under predicted the scale of conflict escalation in this country. Without diverging too far for the 2010 issue, suffice it to say that Thailand has multiple, ongoing, concurrent internal conflicts which complicate any aggregated country-wide analysis and severely challenges the explanation of the evolution of conflict in that country. This leaves a large void in knowledge that is multidimensional and spatially disjointed. An especially critical point for any observer to understand is that the populations of pro- and anti-government groups are composed of dynamically changing demographic memberships. Thus, a traditional aggregated, structural and economic explanation of the Thai opposition has little value in explaining the current conflict dynamics in Thailand. One must look at the fact that the new coalitions on both sides, government and anti-government are likely responding and coalescing because of the new technologies themselves. The news makers themselves have become stakeholders and actors in the conflict (Metternich, et al. 2011, 2).

Contextual Background and Literature Review

Web 2.0 and the Revolutions of the 21st Century

First the Thai Red Shirt Revolution must be seen in the context of the other electronically propelled revolutions which have been radiating out from an Asian epicenter in the Philippines. On January 17, 2001 Philippine President Joseph Estrada's impeachment trial appeared a failure as loyalists in the Philippine Congress voted to lay aside necessary evidence against him. In less than two hours, thousands of angry Filipinos converged on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, a major crossroads in Manila. The protest was arranged partly by forwarded text messages and a flash crowd quickly swelled with over a million people arriving in downtown Manila. Clay Shirky in his Foreign Affairs article says that this revolution laid the template for revolutions from the Philippines to Belarus, including Thailand in the Red Shirt Revolution. As the technology has advanced, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have enhanced the effectiveness of dissidents who no longer have to fight alone. Such revolutions do not always work as Shirky points out. According to his analysis, the Red Shirt uprising in Thailand followed a similar path where technology savvy protesters with social media occupied downtown Bangkok until the Thai government cracked down and dispersed the protesters (Shirky 2011, 1-2).

It is necessary to analyze Web 2.0 technology and its effects upon Thai factions in detail. Social media represents a technological leap to overcome government oppression. Many of its media sources such as You Tube had been blocked in a number of overseas countries, including Thailand. A fig leaf of legality and contract proprietary policy hangs over this as YouTube's Terms of Use policy states that users may not submit any material that contradicts applicable local, national as well as international laws and regulations. The Thai king used this as basis for banning offensive You Tube videos in and out of the country. After protests from Thais in the diaspora, Google created a program algorithm of geo-locational filtering that would block only access to these disputed videos for subjects of the king who were users in Thailand (Faris, Wang and Palfrey 2008, 176). Needless to say the hackers would have their day in Bangkok.

Certainly, in the era of Web 2.0, Thais were also looking over their borders at several other South East Asia countries, including that of Burma and then found ways around You Tube's local Thai constraints by hacking or by using new social media tools to communicate messages. While they are doing this, we must understand what the hardware tool was. It was and is still not the computer, but rather the cellphone. In Thailand only 13% of…[continue]

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