April 16, 2020 0 By Sarut Tantipirom

Earlier this year, it was a surprising month on social media because Thai monarchy got shuddered by a flood of criticism on them. On Twitter, “#Why do we need a king?” was unexpectedly tweeted over one million times by the furious Thais after the news about “Thai king remains in Germany during pandemic” had been published.

In the past, the Thai monarch seems to be a moral being, which is virtuous and majestic. No one dares to criticize them. The topic of a monarchy seems to be extremely sensitive to Thai people in the past.
However, everything has been changed. Over the last few years, we have spotted the occurrence of the head opinions, who try to change and resist the traditional power on social media. Later on, there has been a significant increase in the number of followers. Thai people, mainly teenagers, have widely accepted this progressive idea and started to oppose Thai monarchy without the fear of section 112.

112 royal pizza (cannot) shuts Thais’ mouths.

(FYI: “Pizza” is the Thai slang, which means section 112 because number 112 is similar to a telephone number of “1112” the pizza company.)

Section 112 is the Criminal Code, which seeks to punish those who defame the monarch. However, the penalties of section 112 are too severe comparing to section 326, Defamation law. Moreover, lèse majesté law can be prosecuted by everyone, not just the victim. So, the right-wing side often serves the pizza to control and eliminate the opposite political side.

Last decade ago, we generally saw anti-monarchists get violently arrested and condemned. Those who opposed to monarch need to hide their thought and talk about this topic only in a small group to save themselves. The royal family had a status like Voldemort, whom we must not dispute or even speak out in a bad way due to section 112, which has too much power.

Photo credit: ไข่แมวX

Nevertheless, when the time changes, social also changes due to time and technology development. Currently, social media influences people to have more freedom of speech by providing a public sphere. On social media, our accounts can be anonymous, which means authorities can not recognize our identities when we criticize them.
For this reason, the criticism of Thai monarchy on social media occurs more vastly and frequently and seems to be uncontrollable even section 112 still exists.

This incident reflects the scenario of how technology shapes society. Before social media was developed, no one expected to see a large number of unsatisfied citizens who blatantly speak out their voices against the monarchy. However, social media has been developed and played a significant role in improving the user’s privacy. This encourages people to voice out their opinion through social media.

The Pioneers

The first time I heard the criticisms on the monarchy started from Dr.Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He is the famous influencers who posts strong statements and evidence as opposed to the monarchy on social media. His purpose is not abolishing the monarchy, but modernizing it to stop the royal family from seizing power and reduce their privileges. Although Dr.Jeamteerasakul was intimidated by authorities and he immigrated to France, This circumstance did not stop him from doing online activism. Dr. Jeamteerasakul is not the only head opinion in Thailand, but also more of them.

“กูkult” Facebook page is one of the well-known head opinions. This page was outstanding because of their sarcastic memes. Their memes spread out rapidly, which influence more people to dispute about the monarchy.

The internet phenomenon “#Why do we need a king.” is not the first time.

Even though all of the head opinions I mentioned all get arrested or intimidated, this did not make people scared to criticize and be curious about the overwhelming power of the monarchy. Plus, the negative views from people are unstoppably increasing due to the beginning of the Twitter era.

Over the last two years, Twitter has started to be popular in Thailand. There are plenty of hashtags about the monarchy, and most are in the negative views. For instance, #โตแล้วเลือกเองได้, which happened in a night before the 2018 election day, reached the top trend on Twitter. The hashtag translated as “We Are Grown-Up Now and Can Choose for Ourselves.” started from the royal announcement on the eve of the election said, “Support good people to rule Thailand.”. Since the “good people” term in Thailand is not just a neutral word, it can imply the conservative side, which always monopolizes this term to endorse themselves. It caused the leftists dissatisfied with the royal statement because this reflected the impartiality of the royal institution.

There are not only leftists criticizing the royal family, but also the pro-monarchist also commented in the bad way when Princess Ubolratana Mahidol took a side on the left side political party, Thai Raksa Chart Party. Surprisingly, the left side, which always opposes the monarchy, admired her as a hero who resisted to the junta government.

Photo credit: Pixel Crazy 8-Bit

” Do we have a right to criticize the monarchy, If they are not a moral being, but a political being that has their own standpoint and benefits just like common people.”

Does the online criticism bring any change?

Some believe that social media is just a tool for people to post their feeling. After they express frustration, the disappointment will be lower until being forgotten. This seems to be a cycle and does not bring any change. The Thai royal family still takes advantage of citizens, and what we can do is just speak out your (little) voice by like, share, and post that they do not even listen to. 

  BUT, it might be a time bomb that is going to explode. If the royal family, especially his Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, does not develop the public image by doing something beneficial for citizens and stop the shameless actions, the tension will be higher until social cannot tolerate it anymore. As we can see from the hashtags which the texts become more radical. Plus, there is the advocation of political campaigns that opposed this traditional power. Therefore, it is possible to have further actions that seriously oppose and reduce the influence of the monarchy in the future.

“The throne is not only “a golden chair” but also “the faith” of the people.”

quoted by Royal World Thailand.  
Photo credit: HBO