As much as anywhere in the world, Thailand is filled with social media addicts—but out of necessity in Thailand’s case. Bangkok, the site of much of the political unrest of recent months, is home to one of the largest Facebook populations in the world, with 90 percent of those in the city using the channel to communicate. Its 7.5 million users place it fifth among rankings by Czech social media monitor Social Bakers.
Bangkok also is among the most instagrammed cities on the planet. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the “selfies,” or self-portraits, protesters were snapping with their smartphones as they participated in recent anti-government demonstrations. Whether at the demonstrations or at home, the Thai people have decided to depend on each other for the latest news.
The decision is probably not surprising, given that recent rankings of press freedom by nation place Thailand toward the bottom of the list, where it has sat for more than five years. With many of the TV stations state-owned or belonging to one side of the political divide, there is a real concern that there is no source of unbiased news, and as that lack of trust has risen so too has the use of social media. On Dec. 1, 2013, the 7.5 million tweets in Thai were posted in just 24 hours; that’s getting close to one for every person living in the city of Bangkok. It is not a coincidence that the tweets were sent on a day of massive political protests on the streets of Bangkok. Thai people check their Facebook page instead of turning on a television for morning reports.
So what does a world of citizen journalists mean? On a positive note, it has meant that the Thai people are increasingly well-informed and engaged in what is happening in and to their government. Popular social platforms have created a medium for public debate that previously didn’t exist. These are all developments that encourage the growth and strength of democracy and must be supported.
Sadly, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean more accurate journalism, as these are untrained broadcasters. They publish what they think they see or what their friends have told them. Frequently, the social media channels are clogged with as much rumor as fact. Of late, I’ve seen some people start using Facebook as a channel to urge their friends to be calm and to “think before posting.” Just as the traditional media has learned over the centuries of their existence, our citizen journalists are finding out that reporting news is not only a right; it is a responsibility.