A month ago, the youth movement dominated social media with pro-democracy contents and hashtags. A platform such as Twitter was their space. Today, things are different.
There’s a strong pushback on social media by Information Operations (IO). Twitter has closed down many IO accounts. But just like the government trying to shut down pro-democracy social media accounts, users are one step ahead.
Pro-government accounts are more active than ever on social media, especially Twitter. They are also on Telegram with the Ratsadon Movement, keeping a close watch.
The hashtags Thanathorn #ธนาธร, ‘do not choose the party that wants to overthrow the monarchy’ #ไม่เลือกพรรคล้มเจ้า, ‘love the magical of Thailand’ #รักษาความวิเศษของความเป็นไทย, and ‘we will walk together with love’ #เราจะเดินไปด้วยกันด้วยความรัก are some of the examples of the pushback by pro-government users.
Every day, there are such hashtags to go along with a campaign that narrates this story:
To reform is to overthrow. The only way to save the king and the monarchy is to promote the love and worship of the royal institution and attack the enemy. The enemy is not the children. They are ignorant and misled. The enemy is the man behind the shadow pulling the string. That man is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who has “invited an American-led international conspiracy to subjugate the Kingdom of Thailand in its geopolitical wargame against China.”
It may sound like a far-fetching fantasy to supporters of Ratsadon. But it’s very real to royalists and supporters of the Prayut Chan-o-cha government.
The objective isn’t to persuade the other side but to reinforce royalists through manipulating the emotions of love and hate, anger and paranoia, and to convince the “silent majority” to remain silent out of fear and hopelessness.
Thanathorn has recently been quiet about politics, campaigning but giving few interviews. Yet, his villainization is in full steam. The yellow-shirt mob that targeted him in Nakhon Sri Thammarat on 11 November wasn’t by accident. The leaders of the Progressive Movement are campaigning in the provinces ahead of the planned local elections.
Victories for their candidates would be devastating for the government. As such, the regime is on the attack. But getting people riled up over local elections is one thing. Telling the story of the “traitor who’s bringing in foreigners to overthrow the king and the monarchy” is quite something else.
Propaganda is a powerful tool. It attacks the heart and mind. It turns otherwise normal people into fanatics. It inspires love and incites hate. It persuades one to sacrifice one’s own life. And if one is willing to sacrifice one’s own life, then taking another’s life is just right around the corner.
Never underestimate IO. They’ve conducted propaganda warfares for decades. They have been taught by US military intelligence since the Cold War.
Now, in the digital world, the tools are just different, but the theory is still the same. Once the regime has adapted to the world of social media, it’s a matter of applying the theory to new technology.
Having some of the country’s top PR consultants to advise doesn’t hurt either. Naming no names.
The regime has the entire government at its disposal. Their resources cannot be matched by the Ratsadon Movement, relying on organic participation and public donation.
Thailand’s political tension is escalating. The battle is fought through information. The Ratsadon Movement is social media savvy. But the regime has been doing this for decades, taught by the best in the game, Uncle Sam. Now, they have some of the country’s top social media specialists on staff.
Do not forget. They have created one of the most successful communication campaigns the world has ever witnessed: King Rama 9 as the heart and soul of the Thai Kingdom. It was a campaign executed by military dictators.
Royal news at 8pm? Royal anthem at the movie house? Presiding over university graduation ceremonies? Social media might be new. Information Operations aren’t.
Today, the regime has flipped the script by putting America in league with Thanathorn to manipulate Thailand’s young people to overthrow the monarchy.
Again, ridiculous to some, but very real to those donning the yellow shirts and targeting Thanathorn and anyone else in their way.