Online media are reshaping civilisation

opinion January 18, 2019 01:00

By The Nation

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Behold the ‘pro-sumers’, both producing and consuming news and entertainment – whose influence is steadily spreading



Thailand’s consumer behaviour when it comes to news and similar content has changed significantly in just a few years, triggering the rapid decline of traditional media and the rise of online and social media. 

There are now more than 50 million Thais using Facebook, 42 million on the Line app and millions more regularly checking their Twitter and Instagram feeds and watching YouTube – in a country whose total population is 69 million. These Internet media platforms have profoundly changed the way Thais get their news and other information.

Facebook, for example, has become a virtual city in itself, a vast community whose “central business district” bustles with communications between and among individuals and groups, with shopping sprees, political debate and all sorts of casual amusement. Twitter is even more popular as a platform for staying alert to what’s “trending” in the world – meaning what people online are chatting about most. Nakarin Wanakijpaibul of the Standard, a Thai online platform, notes that Instagram has increasingly become the online “lifestyle magazine” of choice among the youngest social networkers. It’s where you find the kind of content previously featured in all those printed magazines that the disruptive digital technology drove out of business. Television – once the cutting-edge technology for every home and blamed for undermining the appeal of cinemas and drive-ins – has been utterly displaced by YouTube and online video-streaming services. YouTube is the new Channel 7 or Channel 3 for young audiences who are quite happy watching full-length movies on a hand-held phone. Their parents were glued to TV screens and their grandparents frequented movie-houses with giant screens. 

The scale of the spectacle might have shrunk, but clearly not the level of viewers’ enjoyment. The digital media platforms have ushered in a new era of information, most of it delivered via smartphones and TV sets enabled for streaming. For entertainment, Netflix and the like are muscling aside cable TV and other older-generation systems. Overall, traditional media are on the way out, resulting in job losses and business closures, as consumers continue to be lured by every fresh burst of hi-tech experiences to sample and enjoy.

The so-called platform economy, coupled with near-universal use of smartphones and other gadgets, has facilitated the rise of “pro-sumers” – consumers who are also producers of content, including breaking news. The gatekeeper role of conventional media has significantly diminished in this new media landscape as a result, with the unfortunate side effects of increased fake news and biased reporting. 

We can expect that to become even more common unless the new technology itself adopts a system for checking facts and verifying content on social media. Already politicians are taking full advantage of online platforms to not just spread their message but also manipulate opinion by making inaccurate claims. Thailand’s political parties are all over the social media as the general election draws nearer, though we have yet to hear of any overt lying online.

There is as yet no efficient model for tackling fake news in the political context, even as it profoundly shapes events taking place in the West. It will take immense and consistent effort on the part of civil society to introduce and maintain a check-and-balance mechanism regarding content accuracy, and platform owners will have to intensify their own policing. All “netizens”, younger and older, have a responsibility to ensure that the emerging digital society is not misled or confused.