Use social media carefully, governor candidates warned
This year's Bangkok gubernatorial election comes at a time when social media is booming, so it is only natural that candidates and their supporters will take advantage of this medium. However, academics fear that they might cross the line.Recently, Democrat MP Sirichok Sopha posted a photograph in his Facebook timeline showing a redshirt supporter standing next to a burning public bus with the caption: "Policy on burning free public buses - done". He also posted a doctored photograph of Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen on his campaign truck against a background of fire.
Both these posts have stirred criticism among social media users, who are questioning if he is unfairly linking political turmoil in the past with gubernatorial race.
Sak Korsaengruang, chairman of the Lawyers' Council, said candidates could use the social media for their campaign but warned that all sides should be careful about not posting things that can be deemed illegal. He also advised candidates, their supporters, media organisations and the Election Commission to get together and decide exactly how the social media should be used.
The 2002 Local Assembly Election Act's Article 57 (5) prohibits slandering with untrue statement.
Though, so far, no Bangkok governor candidate has launched an attack against their opponents on the social media, the EC has warned that a supporters' misconduct can be reason enough to get a candidate disqualified.
Bangkok EC chairman Pol LtGeneral Thaweesak Tuchinda said the damaged party can sue opponents for libel or file a complaint with his agency if the believe the local election law is being violated. The EC at the state level can also take up and investigate the case.
On the first day of candidacy registration, Thaweesak said the EC would allow candidates to campaign via the social media. However, he said, they would be monitored by Special Branch Police for possible cyber crime offences.
He also warned candidates against making false allegations and told them to never cite the monarchy in their campaigns.
Thanthakarn Duangratana, dean of Communication Arts at the Dhurakij Pundit University, said all candidates should be careful when using the social media, because it is easy to violate the election law. He believes that when election day comes closer, more complaints will be filed against candidates and supporters.
Rungrat Chaisamrej, a lecturer at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the generation that used the social media was in the habit of reacting quickly, and sometimes these reactions can be harsh. Also, she warned, some may cross the line when provoked.