Over the past few weeks, I have followed a series of articles and blog posts describing discontent in Thailand over CNN’s and BBC’s media coverage of the protests and unrest. The complaints about biased coverage seem highly similar to the complaints in China. As we have seen in so many cases, discontent in the real world–combind with emotion–drives people online to communicate and act.
For those who have not followed the story, and I openly admit what I am about to share is an oversimplification of a very complex event, Red Shirts who are supportive of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have protested against the current government which is supported by the Yellow Shirts (royalists). Most of the television channels are either government owned or affiliated, so much of the mainstream media has delivered coverage favorable toward the government’s story. Similarly, some are unhappy that CNN’s and BBC’s coverage has also appeared biased, and reporter Dan Rivers seems to be taking a large bulk of the heat. Discontent with media coverage has driven many people online and into the arms of social media as they seek better information and communications.
To help balance out my own oversimplification (for an earlier Al Jazeera report on Thai events, go here), here is a nice report from Al Jazeera English television discussing the events in Thailand and the rise of social media (here is the link if YouTube does not load properly).
Discontent appears to have been driven online where people are free to create protest/support sites and garner support. Here are a few examples: Facebook pages protesting CNN’s coverage and reporter Dan Rivers, On-line petitions for CNN to seek more balanced coverage, and a Facebook page supporting Dan Rivers.
In this story–just like in China and the discontent around CNN’s coverage of the Tibet protests or in South Korea and the anger about importing US beef products (fear of Mad Cow Disease)–the real world events are driving people online in three ways. First we have real-world events combined with, second, opportunity to communicate and organize freely. In Thailand and China (also Malaysia’s election a couple years back, South Korea’s beef protests, and more), online channels offer an easy opportunity to engage that does not exist for most citizens via mainstrema media channels.
Third, we have emotion. Emotions are judgments, and in all the cases I have metioned thus far the judgment is negative. The emotions are strong and compelling. These emotions spread like wildfire through a social network. For more on emotions in large social networks, refer to this 20-year longitudinal study in the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) examining at how the emotion of happiness spreads through large social networks.
Together–real world events, online opportunity (democratized media) to communicate, and emotions spreading through social networks–creates powerful situation out of which these online protests can grow, gather support, and put pressure on the object of their frustration.
I don’t think this story is over…far from it. Apparaently the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has allegedly been instigating the Red Shirt protests from exile in Cambodia, and now the government seeks Interpol’s help to press charges. I am not surpised communications have been driven online since most of the television channels are aligned with the government and, according to today’s Straits Times newspaper, the one one television station aligned with the red shirts (the UDD, or United Front for Democracy Against Distatorship) has been (or was) shut down. This will only further fuel the fires in the online world.
Jon Russell in Thailand has been, for me, instrumental in drawing my attention to the story. For the second time in as many weeks, a bit thanks to Jon. I am sure Jon could do much better service to this story than I am.