Thailand’s coup d’état has a social media blindspot

Image: AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong
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When the Thai military declared a coup d’état yesterday, one of its first moves was to shut down the country’s TV broadcasters. But Thais are among the world’s most enthusiastic social media users, so many its citizens simply shrugged at the blackout, picked up their smartphones, and turned to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to discuss the latest military intervention—the second in eight years, and the 12th since the country ended its absolute monarchy in 1932.

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A social media crackdown is still possible: The coup leaders summoned Thailand’s internet service providers to an army facility today to discuss their order for ISPs to “monitor, check and block the dissemination of information which is distorted, incites violence or which may lead to unrest in the kingdom or affect national security or contravene public morals.”

The military warned that “if the practice continues, it would have to suspend the services and summon the inciters to face legal actions,” according to Thai newspaper The Nation—which itself had troops occupy its headquarters to quash any unauthorized reporting.

Here’s the army shutting down the YouTube feed of national broadcaster ThaiPBS, after it took it off the airwaves:

But it won’t be easy to get Thais to put down their smartphones. Any attempt to shut down access to Facebook or Twitter would almost certainly be met with countermeasures from social media users. And unless internet access is blocked wholesale, which would surely alienate many otherwise sympathetic or neutral Thais, blocking any single social media network will simply push users to a slew of alternatives.

For now, the social media conversation continues—including on the Facebook page (41,159 likes and counting) of the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, the official name of the military government.

Plenty of people tried to find humor in the coup, which forced the closure of the country’s endless —and supposedly 24-hour—7-11 convenience stores.

They also indulged in some meme creation:

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And some broadcast journalists turned to social media after their native outlets were shut down. Thapanee Ietsrichai, a TV reporter for Thai Channel 3, used her Instagram account to file a series of video reports.