The Nation



Protest apps bring hi-tech flair to Thai rallies

A popular iPhone game

A popular iPhone game

For years, protesters in Thailand have used social media to organise rallies. Now they're taking smartphones to a new level. Apps have been created that allow phones to help protesters perform the high-pitched, raucous noisemaking that is a staple of modern rallies.

More than 70,000 people have downloaded one application that mimics the shrieking sound of a whistle - symbol of the "whistle-blowing campaign" against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The new app is called "Nok Weed", Thai for whistle, and it lets users choose the colour of their whistle, adjust the volume and then tap the screen to sound it.

According to its creator, the app "doesn’t do much and isn't very useful" but it claimed the top spot on Google Play Store's trending list last month within days of its Nov 4 debut. Most of the downloads for the Thai-language app were in Thailand but 1.2 per cent have come from Egypt, another country fraught with political turmoil.

The app's popularity coincides with the rallies that started six weeks ago, attracting thousands of Bangkok's smartphone carrying upper- and middle-classes in a country that is one of the world's biggest users of social media.

Nok Weed's developer, Narit Nakphong, figured there was a new untapped market after demonstrators first took to the streets on Oct 31. "I got the idea from seeing protesters blowing whistles. They blew them so much, they got tired. So I created the app," said Narit, an independent developer.

The protesters say Yingluck is a proxy for her billionaire brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled the country in 2008 to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction and now lives mostly in Dubai.

However, Thaksin's avatar has surfaced in an iPhone game called "Thai Fight", which now has over 80,000 downloads. The game lets users pitch Thaksin or Yingluck against one of 28 opponents, including Thai celebrities or other politicians like opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva whose Democrat Party is backing the protests. "Everyone is so stressed out about politics. I wanted to balance the stress with humour," said Supasheep Srijumnong, the game's 30-year-old creator. "I didn't want them to hit each other. But if politicians throw things at each other, that's funny."

Each character has his or her own weapon: The well-heeled Thaksin strikes a golf ball at opponents, Yingluck - whose childhood nickname is "Crab" - throws crabs at her enemy. Abhisit - an English Premier League fan - hurls soccer balls. The showdowns take place at local landmarks, including inside a Muay Thai ring or on the runway of Bangkok's international airport.

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