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PM 'governs via Facebook'; some abuse social media

For four days last week, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's whereabouts were unknown.

Some news reports said that the PM was kept in a "safe house" after the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) announced that it was hunting her. But there were rumours that she had fled abroad.

Immediately after this, last Sunday, Yingluck went to Rayong to pay her respects at the funeral of a police officer killed during the protest crackdown at Phan Fah Lilat Bridge on February 19. Her visit would not have been widely known without pictures posted on her Facebook page.

At about 8.30pm on the same day, after the grenade attack near Big C Ratchadamri, which killed two children, the prime minister posted a statement on Facebook to express condemnation and her condolences. The English version of the statement followed about 10 minutes later.

In a way, it is unusual that a country's leader uses social media to make a statement in a time of crisis. Indeed, Yingluck has been criticised for "governing the country through Facebook".

But the PM's Facebook statement did reduce the chance of mistakes and confrontation, no matter how much she was involved in it.

Yingluck's public appearances began again after she went outside Bangkok. The media followed her to Saraburi and then to the North, a Pheu Thai stronghold which includes her hometown, Chiang Mai.

On Thursday, PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban challenged Yingluck to one-on-one talks, broadcast live on television, in a bid to end the political deadlock. The media who followed Yingluck to Chiang Mai got her reaction.

Also, the PM's secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva posted an "unofficial translation" of PM Yingluck's reaction to Suthep's challenge on Facebook, which was shared via Twitter.

On Twitter, some people asked Suranand to clarify the post and he replied. On Facebook, there were over 2,000 "likes" for the Thai version and over 400 for the English translation.

Looking at the controversial side of social media, the spread of pictures of the child victims of grenade attacks stirred moral questions.

While some people intended to share them with the hope of letting others see the terrible results of violence, others questioned the suitability of posting the pictures and said we should think about the victims' families.

The feeling of compassion for the victims' families should be considered.

A colleague posted a piece yesterday entitled "Online Murderer", which examined the consequences of online mud-slinging and the impact it had on a law lecturer.

"Last night I talked to the lecturer, who became big news after online media users shared a message that apparently detailed his satisfaction that the two children were killed in the grenade attack.

The lecturer insisted it was not him, and filed a complaint with police. But the damage was done - the spreading of this false message hugely hurt his family," my colleague wrote.

"On the morning of the day the message was shared, his father went for an operation," my colleague wrote.

"It so happened that the two children died at the same hospital. Doctors and nurses criticised him [for posting the remark] and hundreds of phone calls stormed in.

"He then had to decide to leave his father at the hospital and went to a police station in the hope of ending the problem. He was asked not to go back to see his father because of the fear of attacks."

The lecturer said: "Do you know to what extent this one message ruined my family? The feeling of a son who cannot see his father at hospital is so painful."

This is not the first time something like this has happened. And if people had paid close attention, they would have seen the difference in the name of the lecturer in the picture and the message shared.

Social media users are so good at digging for the truth that we can call them "online detectives".

The question is, in a time of political conflict like this, do people care enough to question, or do they only want to believe what they want to believe?


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