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Social Media in Pop Culture Create Cleavage And Enlarge The Gap Between Generations – Why must we understand it?

Thailand – a land of compromise – recently faced a political conflict between generations as it is reportedly to be a polarized societal politic. The older Thais are not fond of speaking negatively about the monarchy and the government while the young generation is calling for reformation. It could not be denied that the main reason that leads to cleavage comes from news consumption from the different platforms in generations with a mix of pop culture that enhances the cleavage in Thai politic view.  

Protesting Campaign Against the Government : Run For Democracy Together, Hamtaro
Cover art image by Digitkame

Why we must understand this?

“Media Studies should not simply sing in praise of particular kinds of technology, any more than it should always be critical of everything it sees. That is why we need an intelligent and sophisticated Media Studies which helps us to properly and critically understand the media of today”

– David Gauntlett.

The media, both traditional and modern, have been using continuously for entertainment, communication, information, and other benefits. Nevertheless, most people do not know that they are being manipulated by news media which happened to be a political tool. The older generation who grew up with traditional media, such as television and newspaper, find it easier to access than the modern media but nowadays, most of the news agencies are being controlled by the shareholder who is biased to support the government and full of censorship. Media literacy and ethics in Thailand has been skeptical more as they could be informed by many ways and platform than in the past. Meanwhile, new media provided more insight into information as everyone on the Internet could consider themselves as one of the media, moreover, people are allowed to exchange information and opinions making 2 ways communication. The main issue seems to come from social media a lot more than the former one. We all cannot reject that the influence of other people on the Internet determine our behavior and shape our conception, including our political decision. 

Older Generation Protest against the pro-democracy politicians
A Thai police officer talks to digital rights activists to stop their rally against the latest Computer Crime Act draft, at a shopping district in Bangkok, Thailand, 18 December 2016. The Thai military junta insists a single gateway to strict internet controls by government is absolutely essential aimed to block and control online data after the latest Computer Crime Act draft is approved by the National Legislative Assembly, the junta’s appoint legislature. A plan to control all internet traffic and online data has been a goal of the military government after seized power in 2014.

Who controls the Media?

Jim Morrison of The Doors once said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind” The particular reason for this circumstance is shown in Thai society nowadays. Of course, the news agencies of traditional media have a reputation for more credibility and more reliable sources but… Is it neutral enough? News agencies in Thailand are full of censorship and biased information since most of them are being manipulated by the government. This is not a new thing in Thailand at all, in fact, it has been done since the very first era of the printing press arrived in Thailand. Older Thais’ opinions are being shaped by the news that these news agencies reported on television or newspaper without a platform to exchange the differences between the audiences’ opinions.

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people

– John Ronson

On the other side, social media has more variety of platforms for political opinions to be shared and the pieces of information are being spread faster and borderless. However, as we know that whoever could be the media themselves, misinformation on social media can also be disseminated vastly by reading the political news, commenting, and sharing. Nowadays, political disinformation on the Internet in Thailand has a lot more than in the past because of the technology development and one of the assumptions is that there is a so-called “I.O.” who would spread disinformation online. This may seem crazy but it does work! People actually believe that disinformation and sharing the post, affect others’ political views in real life. Lately, in Thailand circumstance, Twitter shut down almost 1,000 accounts that are claimed to be accounts attributed to the Royal Thai Army and held it responsible for propaganda and misinformation purposes in order to disseminate content in support of the army and the government and targeted prominent political opponents. Today, things are designed to be short, easy, and fast for humans to access due to the fact that the length of the human attention span is getting shorter. People share news and information without filters which has a wide impact on society.

The Great Wave of Democratization

Part of what is changed in politics is social media and how people are receiving the information 

Dominating the digital platform does not automatically demonstrate political success. The platform of social media is also another important thing to consider as the great wave of democratization is on Twitter and Facebook, more Thai people adopt social media in order to protest and raise awareness in Thai society. As Thai people use social media to protest against the government, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, a new constitution, and a reform of the monarchy. The government did not indifferent to this situation, in fact, the government declared a state of emergency mentioning the threat of two years in prison for posting protest selfies or content against the government. This actively demonstrates the importance the government attaches to social media. The result did not along the lines of the government’s expectations of silent Thai youngsters but it opposite because people become more frustrated and retaliated by blaming the government more than ever before in response.

A Thai scholar Mr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor and political exile, created a Facebook group called ‘Royalist Marketplace’ that has the purpose of sharing content against monarchy and has more than 1 million people was also shut down by Facebook as they claimed that it is from Thai government’s order. Later, Pavin created a new Facebook group a week later with a similar name and reach more than millions of people in domestic and internationally weeks later. The pro-monarchy, especially the older generation, disfavor the content and start calling out the younger generation to be disrespectful and being used by the pro-democracy politicians as a political tool. Later, they created a Facebook group owned by the pro-monarchy called ‘Rubbish Collector Organisation’ in order to support the content favored by the royal family and with the goal to clean ‘social garbage’ which has only 301,000 followers. Compared with the Royalist Marketplace, Pavin’s Facebook group is more successful as he claimed that royalists do not understand social media, as well as he and other young people, do which means the government tends to lose the political game right now because they are not keeping up with the new technologies.

Media = Change? 

Protesting in Pop Culture

Pro-democracy protestor dressing up as Harry Potter

So does the use of social media means that society has changed? The answer is still a debate as the political structure in Thailand is still the same as it is ruled by the military. However, the style of the protest is not the same as in the past anymore after an uprising of Thai youngsters on social media started to spot the inadequacy of the government in performing its duties and non-transparency in contrast with the constitution, people have raised awareness more than before and started taking action by going to the protest combine with pop culture. Most of the pro-democracy protestors are Gen-X and Gen-Y creating an idiosyncratic style of political communication which has so-called “memes” mixing with serious political issues on Tiktok, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Moreover, the protestor would show a three-finger salute from the movie Hunger Games portraying an uprising against a dictatorial regime. Some even dress up as manga characters such as a harmless hamster named Hamtaro or Harry Potter in order to say that they are ready to face the military government and fight for a better future. The style of serious politic mixed with entertainment pop culture is well-received among the younger generation on Facebook group reaching more than 1 million members and becoming one of the largest Facebook groups in Thailand within a month. Nevertheless, because of the ‘meme’ making the Gen-Z in Thailand less likely to understand the political mocking jokes or parody, this spot the vulnerability that social media create that leads to distancing these generations from each other even more. 

Music : Hamtaro Dubstep Version singing about ‘the most delicious thing is.. the tax from the people’

Don’t stay silent when you have a voice.  Be aware of the issue in society and take action

Even though it is a small action on social media, Thai politics continues to make people start challenging the authorities about transparency and that could lead to a change in the promising future. To sum up everything that has been stated so far, the platform and how you get informed are playing a crucial role in society, especially on social media which is the platform where anyone could share their opinions, as we know that others’ opinions also influence on our conception as well. The way of communication in the pop culture era also is an issue that enhance the gap between generations. Getting informed and raising awareness does not make social change, taking an action does.

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