The recent political turbulence, which lasted nearly three months from April to May 2010, was the latest in a series of political unrest in the city of Bangkok. It was the most violent political event causing severe disunity in Thailand. Never before in the history have the Thais been tremendously divided into different beliefs and lived in intense hatred. Apparently, there has been one common question raised amidst the crisis: “Which color are you?” If the answer is different from the beliefs of the person who asked the question, then they automatically become opponents. Both the Yellow and the Red shirts’ leaders have been using all the ploys and plots to convince the masses to join them. Clearly, the most powerful instrument is the media. Mr. Thaksin, as a former communication business man has been effectively using various kinds of media such as the Internet, phone-in conference, and Twitter to communicate with his loyal followers. However, among the other media, the Red shirts’ leaders have been using the radio shows that broadcast mainly in the North and North Eastern regions to attack the Yellow shirts and the current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They successfully cultivated the loyalty to the former, now in exile, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra and incite hatred against Mr. Abhisit. On the other hand, the Yellow shirts achieved their goal in gathering the supporters by hosting the political forums in public places and broadcast through their cable television. It is clearly seen that media has continuously played a crucial role in Thai politics in raising awareness of the political participation. Not only the old media and the new well-known media, but also the emerging use of social media that has shaped a new way of expressing political thoughts.
The social media was introduced to Thai people years ago as a newly innovated way to communicate socially. It has become popular especially among the teenagers, cyber citizen and working people in the business arena. The use of the social media such as social networking sites, instant messaging or Twitter was originally used to update news, exchange information, share experiences with photos and videos, and connect with people from every corner of the world. Nowadays, the social media are increasingly used for various activities. It has become a public place where the users not only communicate but also to share the common interests, likeness, or even hatred with other users. Groups are created to attract people of the same interest, to support the same idol and most notably, to be the use for politics. Politics entered the cyber world long time ago and, yet, it was still limited to websites, which provides one-way communication. Realizing that the social network is the faster way to reach the public as it connects millions of millions users together, the politicians then make the use of social media to promote their campaigns and to get the public’s attention. Vice-versa, the public uses the social media to express their opinions about politics and the politicians, to give support and to show hatred. The recent gatherings of the Multi-colored shirts group to demonstrate against the Red shirts and its requirement for parliament dissolution can be viewed as a good example to the use of social media by public. It is a new phenomenon that happened in Thai politics in relation to civic participation, which served as a surprise for the politicians, society and especially to the Red shirts. The appearance of the No Parliament Dissolution Group or known as the Multi-colored shirts leads to the following question: How has the social networking sites, for the first time, become the vehicle for the Thai Internet users to participate in politics, in the recent political unrest?
The dissertation examines the role of Facebook in Thai politics, with specific interest in the recent political turmoil. It is expected to reveal what influences the Facebook users, who ever or never before, been interested in politics, to came out to express their opinions and show support to the Prime Minister. The aim of the study is to find out that, for the first time in Thai politics, how and why the social networking site is used as a vehicle for political participation.
Background of the Study
Thai Political Background
Present Political Environment. Thailand is a country with a very unique and complex political history. Following the 1932 revolution, it has become a constitutional monarchy, struggling to develop democracy through numerous Coup d’état and governments. Nevertheless, apart from the student revolution in 1971 and 1973 and the Black May in 1992, there had never been such a tragic political event similar to the recent event that happened in Bangkok. The conflict, which had divided the homogeneity of the Thais into two completely contrasting believes, caused intolerable pains. Likewise, the contradiction that exists can never be simply restored through the reconciliation plan in a few years.
Thailand has undergone persistent political upheavals since Thaksin Shinawatra, a man from a business background became Thailand’s 23rd Prime Minister in 2001. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party have changed the face of Thai political history forever. He succeeded in gaining votes from the rural people, which comprises the majority of the country’s population of by using the populist policy. As an astute leader, he has awakened the sleeping rural class to be conscious of their basic rights and that politics affects them directly. James Stent (2010) stated that
Thaksin recognized that the majority of voters were resident in the countryside, and that they had, over the preceding decades of steady economic development, become a sleeping but nonetheless restless giant that was just waiting to be awakened. Once awaken, the rural electorate has not returned to sleep.
The success of his populist policies had benefited him in gaining landslide votes in the general election in 2005 and then became prime minister for the second term. As there were efforts to increase efficiency and accountability, Thaksin’s administration had brought many changes to the bureaucratic system. Challenges to change had been expected to operate well according to plan. However, the far-sighted telecom tycoon did not accomplish what he had intended to do. Thaksin faced the legislation issues involving his family’s free tax sales of shares of the Shin Corp to the giant Singaporean telecom company, Temasek. There were several protests against his business scandal calling him to resign. The key player in the protest against Thaksin was his former business partner, Sondhi Limthongkul, who lost his interests from the cable television. He accused Thaksin for his loss and turned to be his enemy using the media in revealing the truth about Thaksin’s business and his corruptions. Not long after the scandal, Thaksin dissolved the parliament and called for an election. However, the election was unsuccessful as there were boycotts from the opposition parties resulting to the Supreme Court declaring the election as invalid. The new election date was set after the declaration of the Supreme Court, until then, Thaksin was to remain the caretaker of the government.
However, the military general Sonthi Boonyaratglin led a bloodless coup d’état on the nightfall of 19 September, 2006 and ousted Thaksin and his party from power. Thailand was again ruled under the military regime and later become a state under the problematic constitution. Since the overthrowing of Thaksin, Thailand has been in the period of political instability with four Prime Ministers in a three-year-span and numerous protests and insurgencies.
Yellow Shirts. The term “Yellow Shirts” refers to the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). They are an alliance of anti-Thaksin groups, formed by the former business partner of Thaksin, Sonthi Limthongkul. Their first protest under yellow shirt was in 2006 to dispel then-Prime Minister Thaksin, who they viewed as a corrupted dictator. Sonthi, a media mogul, succeeded in gathering a large crowd by broadcasting a talk show about Thai politics “Muang Thai Rai Sapda” (Thailand Weekly) from many different places in Bangkok. As the show went on, more individuals from the government attended the congregation every Saturday evening. They have selected yellow, the color of the King’s Birthday as the theme color, impliedly symbolize their loyalty to the monarchy. Since then, the term “yellow shirt” was used to describe the people who are pro-royalist and have the objective of eliminating Thaksin Shinawatra (Hewison, 2010).
Yellow shirts are a composition of elite, academics and the majority of the middle class in Bangkok (Stent, 2010). That is to say, they are educated protesters, demonstrated against the whole regime of Thaksin, who was selected Prime Minister by landslide votes from the people in rural areas. After an extended period of movements and protests, the yellow shirts had eventually achieved success when the military led a coup overthrowing Thaksin and his regime. This political event can be described by the famous theory “A two tales of democracies” of Anek Laothamatas (1996), a respected political academic that “the provinces elect governments, Bangkok overthrows them” (Glassman, 2009). Nevertheless, after the new election was held under the 2008 Constitution and two allied- governments in succession of Thaksin returned to office, the Yellow shirts movement re-emerged again. The most notable event was the closure of the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, which was done for the purpose of demanding the resignation of then-Prime minister Somchai Wongsawat. The seizure of the airport was widely criticized as a criminal action and has caused troubles to the passengers from flights cancellation and heavy loss to business sector. The Asian Human Rights Commission [a1] (2008) released a statement about the takeover of the airport saying that
Some commentators and opponents of the alliance have described its agenda as fascist. This is not an exaggeration. Experience shows that the types of systemic changes and regimes that follow such movements, although they may not describe themselves as fascist, have fascist qualities.[a2]
Red Shirts. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or commonly known as the “Red Shirts” is the political movement group whose position is to support the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. By supporting Thaksin, the group is opposed to the PAD or the Yellow Shirts who they accused of backing the military in the 2006 Coup to overthrow Thaksin. Whereas the Yellow Shirts is composed primarily of the middle class, academics and elites, the majority of the Red Shirts are poor working class from rural areas, where they benefited from the populist policies when Thaksin was still in power. These people in the remote provinces remain faithful and supportive of Thanksin because they felt ignored in the national policies by every government except under Thaksin’s administration. Their loyalty to Thaksin has driven them to fight for him when he was deposed by the coup and subjected to numerous convictions by the Thai court. From the Yellow shirts point of view, the Red shirts were brainwashed by Thaksin and his loyal followers, mostly because they are uneducated, manipulated and were paid to support and attend the protests (Stent, 2010). Contrary to these claims, the Red shirts leaders argue that these rural people are the majority of the country and are not ignorant despite being poor. They know their rights as citizens and have now realized that they can participate in politics to defend their rights. Their main objective is to fight for democracy, justice and against the intervention in politics by the Amat (conservative elites) (Petty, 2010). Having extremely different political views, series of clashes and confrontations between the Red and the Yellow shirts have taken place periodically since 2006.
The Red shirt leaders, from generation to generation, have been playing pivotal roles in propelling the against-dictatorship movements. The most prominent among them are Veera Musikapong, chairman of the UDD; Doctor Weng Tojirakarn, the most moderate leaders among all; Jatuporn Prompan, a former government spokesman; Nattawut Saikua, a singer; Arisman Pongruangrong and; Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, chief of the security guard who was assassinated during the recent upheaval. The leaders are responsible for organizing the gatherings and leading the masses in the demonstrations, however, important decisions need to be discussed first with Thaksin.
The recent political unrest and the Multi-colored Shirts. The series of protests in Thailand in recent years has started in early 2006, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra decided to sell his family’s shares in one of Thailand’s biggest telecom groups, Shin Corp. The deal netted his family and friends $1.9bn, which angered many urban Thais, who complained that the Thaksin family had avoided paying tax and passed control of an important national asset to Singaporean investors. Later on, Thailand’s politics has been rotating around Thaksin. Thaksin’s remaining ally tried to get control of the Cabinet, while the rest gathered against them. This political atmosphere led the country to a series of protests, in which the demonstrators are mainly divided into the anti-Thaksin Yellow-Shirts (People Alliance for Democracy-PAD) and the Red-Shirts (National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship-UDD). Each side took to the street when the other succeeded in taking the chair.
The political vacuum reached its peak in March 2010, when the Red-Shirts paralyzed parts of central Bangkok for two months, causing huge economic loss and discontent among urban residents. The UDD supporters demanded for the dissolution of the House of Representatives and holding of general elections.
By the end of March, a group called “No Dissolution of Parliament” was created on Facebook by people who opposed the protest. To represent the middle ground for the current colored political crisis in the country, the group later called themselves “The Multi-colored Shirts”. As of May 7, 2010, the number of group supporters reached over 1,200. The group comprises mostly of the Bangkok middle class, office employees, college students, and well-known celebrities from the entertainment industry. Moreover, the group also collaborated with other local civil society groups and the Pink-Shirts, which consisted of academics and alumni of Thailand’s oldest university, Chulalongkorn University. The main purpose of the gatherings was to protest against the demanded parliament dissolution from the Red shirts, to support the Prime Minister Abhisit and to show the power of unity of the Thais under the Monarchy with the love to the King. Significantly, some Bangkokians that joined the gatherings do not have any interest in political matters but they came out to call for peace as the violence and the occupancy of the central district caused inevitable difficulties in living for them.
Structure of the Dissertation
The first chapter of this research looks at the background of Thai politics with details about the main important player in the recent crisis; the Yellow shirts, the Red shirts and the Multi-colored shirts. Likewise, it presents valuable information that informs the readers of the specific research problem that the present study attempts to discuss.
The second chapter provides the information about the social network, specifically the social networking sites and the Facebook.
The Third chapter reviews the literature relating to social networking sites and politics. It specifically looks at the microbloggings sites and the example of the social media’s impacts on the German and the Iranian Elections. Likewise, it examines the term “political participation” with its definition and meanings and the mode of political participation in Thailand.
The Fourth chapter talks about the research project and the methodology.
The Fifth chapter presents the analysis of the findings on the impacts of Facebook and the social media on Thai politics.
Finally, the Sixth chapter summarizes this research project and presents the possible future trend of the use of social media towards politics and social issues.
Chapter 2: Social Networking Sites
The chapter presents the information gathered from existing forms of literature. The discussion is organized into subsections in order to provide an organized flow of discussion. In relation to this, the primary purpose of this chapter is to present what is already known and to identify the gaps in the existing body of literature.
Social networking is the process of virtual interaction amid individuals who are bound to each other with certain social ties such as friendship, family, likes, interest, financial exchange, and others, thus forming a formal or informal social structure. In other words, it is a medium through which all people in 21st century communicate. Never before in the history of mankind had there been such dynamic modes of communicating and staying connected as there are today. People feel honored on these places since they create an online identity and spaces they can call their own. There are many forms of such networking sites, such as MySpace, FriendWise, FriendFinder, Yahoo! 360, Facebook, Orkut, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and Classmates etc. Facebook being the most popularly used throughout the world.
How Social Networking Websites Evolved
Social networking has a long history than its recent commonplace status would imply. Networking sites from classmates.com to Six Degrees.com started with intentions of connecting people with similar interests and creating online communities. However, online spaces like, SixDegrees.com, classmates.com, Fanfare etc that began in late 1990s were left defunct without much popularity (Madge, Meek, Wellens, ; Hooley, 2009). But with the introduction of Friendster.com in 2002 social networking got skyrocketing fame till 2003 and became a major thespian on the Internet. Today, complete social networking sites like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, along with specialized social networking services like YouTube, Flickr, Digg, and del.icio.us stand amid the United States’ most visited and the world’s most sought out webs on the Internet. MySpace is ranked as the third most popular sought out American Webs – standing in only after Google and Yahoo!–and sixth worldwide, pooling millions of visitors daily. Approximations range from 37.8 and 56.8 million distinctive visitors flipping through MySpace’s pages per day. Starting with Six Degrees theory, social networking web developers established upon the notion of offline social networking when planning their products. They designed on the pretext that a normal person has 150 friends, planned to add value to their products by assisting people to utilize and verbalize the degrees of separation online (Castells, 1996). Hence, Friendster pioneered successfully in modern social networking by focusing more on bringing people together providing online opportunities to share with each other, focusing less on the degrees f separation. Other social networking tools like Library Thing, YouTube, Flickr and del.icio.us focus on keeping people connected through sharing various media such as images, videos or books to keep themselves updated and share with each other. They all thrive on the principle of public participation. Till 2006 it was the most popularly visited website in USA, until recent years when it was surpassed globally by its chief rival, in April 2008, based on the number of its monthly visitors.
Social Networking in Education
Social networking tools are widely used for educational purposes as well because mediums like Facebook has capability to hold learners busy in creative ventures. In Fact some instructors and tutors are communicating to students on this venue online (Yang, 2003). Elgg is an open medium of social networking system devised exclusively for instructors and students to use as an e-portfolio, posting, sharing, and collaboration device. Similar to LiveJournal and Vox, Elgg has privacy options where students can decide upon users who can view their profiles, posts, blogs, etc. hence; it is running successful among tutors and learners.
Enterprise Social Networking
Academic libraries are not the only libraries that ought to know about utilizing social networking tools. Companies, including hospitals, are very keen in social networking tools and applications. Why? In business environments, sharing knowledge and finding experts is essential to the goodwill of the organization. Social networking sites make it easy to find coworkers, along with providing users the means to collaborate, like blogs, discussion boards, and more. Dissemination of knowledge on these forums becomes a lot easier. Other social media: LinkedIn, another successful tool to socialize are LinkedIn, a service meant to connect business professionals, colleagues and networks. Still nowhere near the attainment or reach of MySpace or Facebook, its traffic is ascending, and the site has been pooling profits in recent months. LinkedIn functions in lot manner as Friendster does, by making connections between users by degrees (i.e., Sean knows Arsala [1st degree]; Arsala knows Sean [2nd degree]; Sean knows Max [3rd degree]). Using such network, users can find business contacts, for the sake of finding jobs or just networking, by following the stream of contacts. LinkedIn also presents public and private factions; for instance, alumni organizations are using LinkedIn to provide a platform for alumni. Flickr assists people to share photos with family, friends, colleagues and other acquaintances. Basic accounts on Flickr are free and a user can display up to 200 pictures. Like other social networking sites it offers user profiles and networks. Tagging helps people to recognize each other. Libraries and librarians have greatly benefited from this social site which helps them publicize their events, put up photos of library staff and compiling photos of historical significance. Besides, Flickr is a great tool for finding pictures for presentations. LibraryThing is also a media site where users can catalog their collections of books online. Being a hit amongst librarians, it is being used to catalog whole library collection where they can post information about new books and images as well. Books have their own tags which helps users to search for the desired ones.
Impacts on Society
The positive contributions of social networking sites to society are the following:
1. It connects marginal or minority groups and subcultures that do not have the physical access or space to communicate or exercise their beliefs.
2. Students, businessmen and individuals can share useful information and keep themselves updated.
3. It connects family, friends and other acquaintances that are otherwise unable to communicate with each others in face to face due to geographical dispersion at a particular time.
4. They cannot count on the space-time range; one can communicate asynchronously or synchronously depending on one another requirements.
5. Virtual space on the Internet is also used for e-commerce and business purposes, via video conferencing (Castells, 2000).
On the other hand, the following are known to be the negative impacts of social networking sites to the society and its members:
1. As they say that technology breeds laziness. The social networking generates more indifference and laziness in users. Fat people turn devoid of vitamin D due to spending most of their leisure moments on computer.
2. Since people are used to abbreviating their language on Internet, they get used to such language in their normal writing. Students often corrupt their language in their exams and end up losing precious marks (Acar, 2008).
3. A lot of time and energy is wasted on social networking sites. Due to this addiction an individual’s family is ignored which may result in grave consequences.
4. People use such networking sites unethically such as entering into some exotic profiles, copying pictures and using them immorally. Hackers also have their time in hacking public accounts and mail addresses.
5. A lot of unnecessary even spam content is floated wasting time of other genuine users.
6. Social networking can be humiliating to certain users – bullying etc is more likely as people may deceive through disguising themselves or remaining anonymous.
7. Childern waste a lot of their time in finding dates even watching and sharing pornographic materials. Even adults keep extra marital affairs due to over interaction with anonymous people. As a result families are broken and lives are shattered falsifying the fact that “they connect” (Marketing Vox, 2009).
Social networks are even used as tools to disgrace or harass communities such as the blasphemous cartoons which created an enormous rage and unrest in the Muslim world leading to boycotts in using such sites creating complications for those who use it for constructive purposes.
Facebook is a social networking website introduced publically in February 2004,is controlled and privately possessed by Facebook, Inc. It has around 500 million active users as of July 2010. Users have a wide range of options to network with others. It is a gathering spot where they make friends, form communities, upload pictures, make wall posts and search for the desired people, etc. Additionally, people may join networks organized by their places of work, school, college or university. Facebook allows a person of 13 years or above to become an active member of the website.
Facebook was formed by a student of Harvard university named Mark Zuckerberg (while at Harvard), who initiated it as one of his leisure pursuits with some monetary assistance from Eduardo Saverin. In a few months, Facebook and its gist spread across the doors of Harvard where it was warmly welcomed and well received. After a few months, the sphere of influence broadened its threshold to Stanford and Yale where, like Harvard, it was greatly acclaimed and endorsed. Soon, Mark Zuckerberg, the founding father of this web was accompanied by two other colleagues at Harvard – Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes – to help him upgrade the site to the next height. After a few months, Zuckerberg and Moskovitz left Harvard to follow their ambitions to run Facebook officially full time. In August 2005, the Facebook was publicly termed as Facebook and the URL Facebook.com was acquired for a reported $200,000.
Effects of Facebook on Society
A derisive story describes well, the state of Facebook craze in our society. It goes like: A criminal in a court was pronounced death verdict by law. The judge asks: what is your last wish to be fulfilled, the criminal replies: I want to update my status dead n Facebook. Though it was a sarcastic anecdote but it implies to all Facebook die hard freaks. I remember my aunt coming back from work and starting Facebook as she gets time. In fact she would take time instead of caring for her 2 year old child. The height was that even if there were new messages, etc to read she would visit photos of anonymous people, watch unnecessary videos and waste time instead of looking after her family. Consequently, she ended up breaking with her husband. These are the real life stories which portray the craze of Facebook users. The Pros and Cons Facebook was created with the intention of bringing lives close to each other. Though, distance, time and space have shrunk as a result of this facility (Carter, 2009). Scattered families can stay in touch with their loved ones through this medium, old friends can stay connected. Everyone at their work places can share information and keep themselves updated. But on the contrary, people have been so much used to online networking that they would not like to meet anyone in person even if individuals are near. Socializing is enough but why do people need to over socialize? Facebook is used by a number of under aged children. These impressionable minds are prone to give away information to strangers. Besides, it has adverse effects on their education, since they freeze before Facebook at the cost of their studies. Moreover, their relationships with parents keep worsening. They remain indifferent to everything except Facebook (Kunene, 2009). According to a Rhodes University professor following can be the effects of Facebook usage:
1. Facebook helps unite old friends and serves as a forum for reunions. Such geographically dispersed friends can plan their reunions and events or meeting points, etc.
2. It also serves as a discussion forum on different topics for educational purposes
3. This most visited site has been outlawed clashingly in states like Pakistan, Syria, Iran, and China on account of various controversies. The blasphemous cartoons that were displayed on Facebook greatly provoked Muslims resulting in public annoyance, protests, taking to streets even to the extent of boycotting western products, just because of Facebook. Moreover, its usage has been prohibited in various offices due to employees’ overuse of Facebook and wasting time.
4. People of all ages play games like Farmville which is utterly killing of time. Such time should be used towards reading and academic chores instead.
Another social networking site Twitter, from its inception in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, has earned fame and popularity worldwide and till date is catering around 100 million users worldwide. It is often termed as the “SMS of the Internet” It allows users to do networking and micro blogging via messages termed as tweets.
It is the widely used site for browsing, streaming, sharing and uploading videos ranging on all topics. Anyone can search for the favorite short movies, celebrity interviews, talk shows, documentaries, and others. There would not be a topic where videos are not available on the site. It is also being used by libraries for educational purposes.
Chapter 3: Review of Related Literature
This chapter presents related literature and studies on the role of social networking sites in shaping politics. Particular attention was given to microblogging with concrete examples on the role of microblogging sites in the German and Iranian elections.
Regardless of whether the political system is democratic or non-democratic, communication still exists within political terms. Literature on this subject matter has evolved in the western hemisphere and also in Asia since the year 2001 (Kluver, 2007; Park et al., 2000). Globally, election campaigns have adopted the American approach which employs use of attacks and counterattacks (Diamond & Bates, 1988). The works of Kraus, Davis, Rice, and Paisley in the 1980s looked into the impact of mass and interpersonal campaigns; however research results were inconclusive and not definitive.
The theoretical backbone governing this study is the personal influence hypothesis by Giltin [a3] (1978) as cited in Karan and Gimeno (2008). The hypothesis stated it is likely that interpersonal relationships exert a stronger influence over that of information relayed through various forms of communication media. In the same way, mediation of personal communication will have a great impact on political communication. As explained by Grönlund (2001), onset of electronic media particularly the Internet revolutionized opinion-building and voting practices by significant shaping the electorate’s opinion.
Another is the theory of cross-pressures by Lazarsfeld [a4] et al. (1994) as cited in Gronlund (2000). This theory asserts that different modes of communication may it be print, electronic, or face-to-face, can potentially make voters insecure of their choices which can lead to political passivity and ultimately, not exercising their right to suffrage.
Moreover, Grölund (2001) attempted to offer an explanation on the relationship between media technologies and politics. According to him, technology provides the public horizontal communication and heightens direct communication that may cause “new political needs and demands in the political system” though communication technology does not necessarily increase voter participation and turnout.
Polat (2005) postulated that systems of communication and increased access to information considerably influence the population’s desire in participating political activities. One such form of communication is the Internet. The Internet is a revolutionary technology that merges the audio-visual elements of TV and print media which not only provide a conduit for greater information access but also a simple mechanism that fosters active participation among citizens in organized activities, political campaigns for example.
There are two competing theories on the impact of the Internet on the participation of citizens in political affairs, namely: mobilization and reinforcement. Norris (1999) reviewed related literature on these theories. Prominently stated in the mobilization theories is the power of the Internet to encourage civic engagement through empowerment of citizens and fortification of social capital by closing the divide between those having political power and the lay people. This novel technological advancement facilitates fairness and participatory politics. An assumption of the theory is that continued expansion of the Internet will translate into the overtaking of TV and print as primary information sources for election and non-election updates (Norris, 2002). The mobilization theory seemed to be in line with the ideas put forward in The Changing American Voter stating that the citizens can expand their knowledge of politics and issues concerned and cast their votes more intelligently (Smith, 1989).
The other theory which is the reinforcement theory proposed that the Internet does not have the power to drastically change or transform patterns of political communication currently in existence as well as political participation. They emphasized what proponents termed the digital divide or the gap that separates those that have Internet access versus those without. Expectedly they said individuals that enjoy higher economic standing are of a greater advantage and therefore expected to participate more often in political activities. Therefore, the Internet will not close the gap between the rich, politically active members of society and the poor, politically inactive sectors of the community (Norris, 1999). This perception of civic engagement is contained in the book entitled The American Voter which described that citizens whose interest in politics is strong are probably the same people who would involve themselves in politics and that few people are sophisticated enough to understand the candidates and the policies they wish to implement ([a5] Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes).
Nature of Social Networking Sites
Social networking sites have become increasingly ubiquitous and extremely popular since the 21st century such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and Xanga which are an appendage of Web 2.0. The features of this new version of the web allow users to upload texts, photographs, and music that is accessible by anyone online. These sites serve as a personal directory for this content. Users are able to create individual profiles or a virtual persona- and this profile is used to list favorite music, movies or television shows as well as upload their photographs, videos, and music. Due to this ability of creating identities, social networking sites become an essential means for adolescents and young adults to foster belongingness and camaraderie. It should be remembered that most frequent users of social networking sites are adolescents and young adults. Teenagers contended that if they do not have accounts in any of these sites, they do not exist ([a6] Nyland, Marvick & Beck, 2007).
The popularity of these sites has led to the creation of new media giants and powerhouses. In August 2006, Rosenbush reported that MySpace had 35 billion views while Facebook, on the other hand, was viewed by 14.8 billion Internet users. In response to this viewership, Newscorp, the media conglomerate of Rupert Murdoch, bought MySpace for the sum of 580 million dollars (Mintz[a7] , 2006) and financial experts said that in three years, its worth could reach 15 billion dollars (Rosenbush, 2006)
Because of the amount of time spent by the youth in social networking sites, society has expressed deep concern for these sites serve as playgrounds for sexual predators (Hempel, 2005). Others moralists have argued that these sites propagate lewd and pornographic material as cited by the ChristianNet [a8] Study in 2006. This observation is backed by studies analyzing MySpace profile photos prominently by Pierce [a9] (2006) who found that 59% of photographs in MySpace contained suggestive and sexual poses while 54% contained profanity.
Another principal concern over utilization of social networking sites is that youth who use them all the time lead very busy lives and the significant amount of time spent in networking online could add to their stress and workload. A study by Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout (2005) noted that adolescent users cram 8.5 hours of media content into 6.5 hours of their daily routine. This led the researchers to describe the phenomenon as media saturation, since teenage users are exposed to multiple media sources in one sitting. For this very reason, the teenagers of today are referred to as the “Multi-tasking generation”. Hempel (2005) distinguished how adults and adolescents use the Internet. As expected, adults’ usage is more utilitarian in nature as opposed to the adolescents or youth who most like use the Internet for communicating and hanging out with their peers. The purpose that this review will explore is its place and significance in politics.
In some countries, microblogging particularly in Twitter has proven to be an effective political communication tool. This strategy has started during the campaign of American president Barack Obama in 2008 and other countries followed replicated its success. European countries like UK and Germany used microblogging during the campaign trail by political candidates or even the voting public (Anderson[a10] , 2009; Jungherr, 2010). In some countries for instance Iran and Moldova, microblogging is utilized by ordinary citizens in order to express their opinions against the current regime (Eltham[a11] , 2009 as cited in Holotescu, Gutu, Grosseck, and Bran, 2010). In the case of Moldova this is called the Twitter Revolution tagged #pman, the codename for the Great National Assembly Plaza. Political luminaries like Evgeny Morozov and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi have extensively covered this event in the country of Moldova.
In the European Parliament Elections in 2009, microblogging also found its use. The site europatweets.eu was aimed to involve the public with the politics involved in the European Parliament Elections. It bears the slogan “What is Europe doing?” and it is aimed to promote transparency between the candidates of the elections and the voters. Another popular site, TweetElect09.eu (http://tweetelect.com/) collate all the feeds and posts pertaining the European Elections on Twitter under the #eu09 which enables the public to have an overall view of the politics, the candidates and their platform of governance (Holotescu [a12] et al. 2010).
Technical aspect of social networking sites
Regarded as one of the most significant breakthroughs in Web 2.0, microblogging allows its subscribers to post texts consisting between 140-200 characters and sometimes photographs or videos. Access to these posts could be online via mobile phone, electronic mail, short message system, or third party applications. The authors of these microblogs usually export their feeds as widgets on blog sites. Relayed to Twitter, Tumblr, and many others, microblogging has created real-time publishing substituting communication and personal publishing in the process. The most popular of these sites is Twitter having 190 million users as of May 2010 (Holotescu [a13] et al., 2010).
Microblogging sites provide the following features s enumerated by Holotescu [a14] et al. (2010):
1. Embedding multimedia objects in the form of photographs, video excerpts, audio files, live videos, presentations, live streaming and visual aids like diagrams or mind maps etc.
2. Creating groups consisting of users. These groups usually have an announcement section where moderators post some activities to be accomplished by the group.
3. Messages can be sent and received through the web, mobile phones, SMS, IM (Yahoo and Jabber), e-mail, Firefox/Chrome extensions, API, desktop and other 3rd party applications; notes can also be imported from Twitter, RSS.
4. RSS feeds can be monitored for blogs, sites, or activities in other social networking sites.
5. Content can be tagged.
6. Polls and quizzes can be created and conducted. Answers of which can be viewed online or via SMS.
7. Statistics and representations of users or groups can be visualized.
Social Networking Sites and Online Political Participation
According to Mr. Lee Rainei of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, social networking sites are making its way into the political arena by storm and he acknowledges the power of the Internet on the American elections (Pereira, 2008). Research has shown how the websites of political parties, candidates, and blogs become rich information sources on the election campaigns and furthermore reported the active participation of citizens in obtaining relevant information about the elections through these websites (Bimber [a15] & Davis, 2000). In addition, social networking sites namely Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, or You Tube have become actively involved in the election campaigns.
The Internet’s role in information, communication, collaboration, and organization of protest action was put to the test during the G20 summit. Through the social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, activists and lay people alike who are interested in taking part of protest actions can view its schedule. In addition, g-20meltdown.org (2009) encouraged creative ways in which demonstrators can relay their message to committee members. Through the website, people can print posters and flyers that advertise said event, provide information on ways the march is planned, and find links with other websites. Visitors are free to express their opposition towards corporatism by way of printing their own counterfeit money while comprehensive maps and manifestos prompt visitors to attack property of banks.
Online political participation especially through social networking sites is widespread and intense that early perspectives that the Internet can positively impact political mobilization can only be viewed with skepticism (Margolis & Resnick, 2000). A case in point is the site my.barackobama.com, a social networking site designed to recruit campaign volunteers leading to subsequent mobilization offline (Gibson, 2009), clearly illustrate the influence of social networking sites on those who are inactive politically speaking. Shah et al. (2001) and Wellman et al. (2001) spoke of the positive impact of the Internet on civic participation while latest studies proved that the motivating factor for joining social networking sites among adolescents is camaraderie and strengthening of ties with new acquaintances (Ellison et al., 2007), which are characteristics that enhance social capital and encourage political participation (Putnam, 2000). Other authors concluded a positive relationship between use of social networking sites and life satisfaction and social trust of young individuals (Valenzuela et al., 2009), civic engagement and political participation (Boyd, 2008; Raynes-Goldie & Walker, 2008). Hindman [a16] (2009), on the other hand, mentioned a weak association between Internet usage and engagement.
As far as research on online protest activism and the impact of Internet on a number of political and social movements are concerned, it is exhaustive (Gillian [a17] et al., 2008). Though people think of protests as traditionally mounted in the streets and public demonstrations (Norris, 2002), the Internet has lowered or eliminated barriers for participation and since it is global, protest ideas diffuse rapidly through various multimedia platforms. The Internet performs multifarious functions, incredibly deploys potential innovation (Lessig, 2001), and cultivates self-expression and creativity. Various applications were developed for illegal exchange of audiovisual material as emphasized by Palfrey [a18] and Gasser (2008) and the sheer volume of users consciously utilizing them is an indication that the Internet becomes a space where respect for authority declines and accompanied by liberalism and anti-corporatization. Viewing it from the mindset of a post materialist, this should serve as a challenge to a lifestyle fuelled by materialism and mass production. In the United States, early attempts provided incomplete support to the conclusion that a more issue-oriented culture having open-minded attitude towards equal rights and less conservative lifestyles can be found in online communities (Davis [a19] & Owen, 1998). Furthermore, Hindman (2009) revealed that Internet users hold more liberal views than the general populace while Eurobarometer (2007) and Norris and Inglehart [a20] (2009) observed more anti-government and cosmopolitan views among Internet users.
The study of Turkheimer (2007) described social networking sites as one of the most powerful form of media in political communication, as an avenue of disseminating and sharing information pertaining the US presidential campaign in 2008. Also in her research are the various applications of YouTube which was first put to use in video sharing during the congressional elections in 2006. Social networking sites can upload these videos where it would be possible for subscribers to follow the campaign trail of candidates and other related news. Another finding is the popularity of YouTube especially during the presidential campaigns in 2008.
Pereira (2008) cited the results of a Pew survey where nearly 25% of Americans regularly turn to the web for information regarding the elections which is double than the statistics recorded in 2004 while triple in 2000. Of all the social networking sites in the US, MySpace had the most number of users.
In 2007, Williams and Gulati determined the reasons why another site, Facebook played a large role in the congressional and gubernatorial race in 2006; during which time, every candidate has a personal account on the website. Personalizing of the candidates’ or their aides’ entries has allowed the support of ordinary citizens known. This has made the authors conclude that Facebook became instrumental in influencing the electoral process.
The research conducted by Anstead and Chadwick (2007) determined how British politicians utilized social networking sites after the elections held in 2005 which led to founding the MpURL Membersnet which is a social networking site providing every member of the Labor Party member with a site wherein constituents can take part in discussions and forums. They both recommended further studies that examine the differences of political systems when the issue of Internet usage is concerned, especially probing into the reason why the Democrats have harnessed it better than the Republicans in the US and the gradual changes in British institutions.
Microblogging and the German Superwahljahr 2009
The year 2009 was relevant for German politics as this was the time when the electorate has increased in frequency. For political parties and actors, it was the time to exploit new and exciting ways of communication with the voting populace. One is microblogging in Twitter not only by political supporters but also by politicians and political parties alike. The explosion of twitting or microblogging during this year in Germany was attributed to the success of the Obama campaign via the Internet. This development had every German politician seeking public office consider opening a Twitter account which is a political must-have. However, some politicians had missteps in the use of Twitter during the campaign period. One publicized example is by Members of Parliament Ulrich Kelber and Julia Klockner who posted the results of the Bundespräsidentenwahl in Twitter before pronouncement of the official results (Jungherr, 2010).
This and many other incidents resulted to numerous critical discourses on the relevance of Twitter and microblogging. While microblogging was considered a welcome change in politics for its practicality, others openly regard it inconsequential and a realm teeming with childish hipsters and self-marketing gurus (Meckel & Stanoevska-Slabeva, 2010 as cited in Jungherr, 2010). However, the pessimism surrounding microblogging does not correspond to what politicians and political parties experience with Twitter. In the succeeding pages, this review will tackle the applications of microblogging in the German political arena and the lessons learned during the Superwahljahr 2009.
In 2009, the microblogging provider Twitter has set the tone of the elections in Germany and it has found effective use among politicians, political parties, official campaign accounts and private citizens or supporters. While these microblogging sites vary from each other significantly and bring with them different political agenda during the campaign period, lessons and concerns could be drawn (Jungherr, 2010).
It could be gleaned from Jungherr (2010) that the campaigns that transpired in 2009 in Germany had found successful means for using Twitter in political communication. These uses can be categorized into three groups of usage patterns: community building, distribution channel for social objects, and communication backchannel to political events.
At the start of the 2009 CDU campaign season, there was already an existing online public sphere consisting of CDU supporters who wanted to voice their opinions. The number of supporters was few and majority of them are not interconnected. Updates on the campaigns are posted in the official Twitter account in @webcamp09 and @teamdeutschland where online supporters establish friendships and interact with each other. There were also Twitter conventions @message and RT that foster interaction among supporters, making microblogging as a successful means of building communities online (Jungherr, 2010).
The second usage pattern of microblogging is as a channel for disseminating and distributing social objects. During the entire political campaign, paraphernalia like posters, videos, links, or remixes were considered of less worth. What was important for these parties is the interaction of the supporters with these objects. This is in conjunction with the theory of McLeod (2009) as cited in Jungherr (2010) explaining the importance of these objects in social media. The microblogging posts and feeds served as ideal channels to focus the attention of the supporters to objects on the website that might trigger further interactions between members. The opinions posted on Twitter had in turn strengthened community building efforts by the political parties.
Microblogging also serves as a communication backchannel to social events and this use has been discussed in terms of its positive and negative applications (Boyd, 2008). During the campaign season, feeds posted in microblogging sites are useful communication backchannels- either in the campaign events where supporters broadcast their Twitter feeds on real time or traditional media events such as television debates involving politicians, documentaries, and the like.
Though politicians have exploited microblogging sites to their full advantage, there are still questions that are left unanswered as to the constructive use of microblogging in political communication. One of the questions is negativity propagated by microblogging sites. Negative publicity and propaganda will constantly be one of the ugly aspects of political campaigns. Social media and microblogging has given negative propaganda its new prominence. It has been shown that the content that has the greatest impact on the voters are the scandals or personal attacks directed toward a political competitor. Should microblogging grow in its importance in fostering “healthy” political communication, then the issue on its tendency to be used negatively must be consciously addressed (Jungherr, 2010).
The second question is related to management of expectations. Sagatz (2009) as cited in Jungherr (2010) said that all participants in microblogging activities most especially politicians need to have realistic and clear expectations on the uses and the impact of microblogging in their political agenda. Expectations of politicians regarding what they hope to achieve in their microblogging and how to best evaluate these should be made clear. The voting populace and the media following the campaigns should also formulate what their expectations are of constructive political microblogging. So that political microblogging will be constructive in communicating with the varied audience, it is not sufficient whether a supporter pokes back as in the case of Facebook or on similar sites. Finally the voting public should accept that the online activities of aspiring politicians are more intensive during the campaign then gradually slow down after the election period. This does not necessarily mean that the political actors are in “offline autumn” but politicians are consolidating communication activities and re-assess the sustainability of the activities during times when resources are limited and political challenges continue to exert considerable pressure on the political candidates (Konig, [a21] 2009).
The strong presence of Twitter and other microblogging sites in the political scene might cause political parties or actors to commit mistakes. These could take in various forms such as a mistweet by a politician or statements of a supporter becomes quoted as the political stand of the party. If the general public inquires parties and politicians on the process of political communication, society and media need to be more cognizant of the mistakes committed along the campaign trail (Jungherr, 2010).
Microblogging and the 2009 Iranian Elections
Utilization of social networking sites during the campaign for the presidential seat in Iran in 2009 surged following 30 years of repression during the previous regimes in the Islamic Republic. During this time, the number of youngsters hooked to the computer age is overwhelmingly high and are drawn to these social networking sites. The statement of Mir Hossein Mousavi, a presidential candidate and former minister affirmed that “every Iranian is a campaign headquarters[a22] ”. It was not only text messaging relied upon in mobilizing supporters and campaigning but also social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In both ways, political opinions are exchanged by citizens among members of the family, friends, and even to strangers. Initially, snapshots and videos which run for 30 seconds or two minutes were exclusively domestic then made headline news in reputable and respected media giants such as Aljazeera, CNN, and BBC among others. Immediately following the election in June 12, there was widespread media blackout as the ruling government restricted the entry of foreign journalists. This became the turning point of redefining the face of journalism in Iran- this is succinctly termed as citizen journalism utilizing these videos and snap shots (Dabashi, 2009).
The Iranian civil society groups have expressed their rage, dismay, and grievances toward the ruling regime using cyberspace. The events that marked the post-election in Iran revolutionized Facebook into a medium where social networks were vicariously established by turning it into a cyberspace coffeehouse. Did this social networking site resuscitate civil society groups in Iran or the civil rights movements in Iran save Facebook- rapidly became a well-known maxim that shifted on the plane comprised of coffeehouse users (Dabashi, 2009).
The successful and resourceful utilization of social networking in cyberspace by opposition groups apparently intensified the surveillance of the ruling regime in the worldwide web. High-ranking military publicly officers declared to demonstrators that Internet is exempted from their surveillance activities. This stern regulation prompted Facebook users in Iran to change their identities and assuming “Neda Irani” or “Neda Iranian” as their names. The telecommunications company Nokia was principally attacked and boycotted by Iranians for selling the surveillance tool of the regime. Despite these counter attack measures of the government against social networking sites the overwhelming patronage of Iranians over these sites are beyond belief (Dabashi, 2009).
The woman who became the face of Iran’s opposition movement was the 32-year old graduate student named Neda Agha Soltan or Neda. She is one of many Iranian women, young and old, destitute and affluent, who took the streets and demanded to have the presidential votes in favor of Mir Hossein Mousavi be recounted. In June 20, 2009, a Basij militiaman gunned her down during a protest according to eyewitness accounts and uploaded videos on the worldwide web. These videos in YouTube and Facebook vividly showed the last few minutes in Neda’s life. Her demise gave a resounding voice worldwide and symbolized the suppression of the Iranian government on the demonstrations voicing against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Police authorities dispersed crowds of mourners numbering about a thousand at the Haft-e Tir Square in Tehran. “The violence of the regime has intensified. They are trying to create a regime of terror,” according to Mohammad-Reza Djalili of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. He continued that “The future will be marked by this horrible chain of events” (Sheikholeslami & Alexander, 2009).
Definitions and Meanings
The concept of political participation has been widely used by the academic and other areas for quite a while. There is general recognition of the importance of political participation toward the political development; it also indicates the modernity of the politics (Sane, 1981). However, there is neither a certain definition nor explanation about the political participation.
Myron Weiner [a23] (1971) collected various definitions of the political participation by numerous academics from different fields as follows:
1. An action as a mean of support and demand from the government
2. A successful attempt which impacts government’s action or the choosing of head of the government
3. An action of the citizen which is approved legitimate
4. Some democratic thinkers believe that the representation is the most appropriate way of the political participation in the large and complex society. Millions of people are certainly not able to participate effectively in politics.
5. The alienation can also be classified as a way of political participation. It is an intense feeling of the people that involving in political activities does not provide any good. However, it is in contrast to the apathy, which is a complete lack of interest and action.
6. Participants are citizen who are enthusiastic about politics. They are people who are who are active members of the political party, participate in political conferences, and concern about social problems. This definition of the political participation also includes the activities, such as following news on politics and discussing about political issues.
7. The persistent continuum is an action which emerges suddenly and institutionally.
8. A great effort to impact the execution of the bureaucracy and the civil servant.
9. In some definitions, political participation counts only an action in the national level.
10. An action of political act.
According to Weiner[a24] , he has given the ideas of political participation as
any voluntary activity; it can be successful or unsuccessful, organizational, occasional or regularly activities. It is unnecessarily has to be legitimate, it should only impacts on choosing the public policy, policy administration and the choosing of political leaders; local or national.
Weiner also emphasizes the three important aspects of political participation. Firstly, it has to be an activity, which excludes attitudes and feelings. Secondly, only an action that is voluntary. Involuntary actions, such as recruitment or tax payment, are not included. Lastly, citizens are able to elect government officers.
Herbert McClosky (1968) has given the definition of political participation as stated, “Any voluntary activities from the member of society to select the leader and set the public policy, directly and indirectly”. [a25] These activities include: go to vote, follow political news, discuss in the open political forum, and participate in the conference on politics. Along with being an officially member of the political party, individual’s important role is to be a money-supporter for candidates and political party.
Milbrath and Goel (1977) explained that political participation is an activity of individual to have an influence over or support the government and the political system. From this given definition, Milbert sees a political participation as any activity which has an effect on politics.
Verba and Nie (1972) emphasized that political participation is an activity of only the individual. This also includes individuals whose participation is political because of their professions, namely; government officer, political party officer and occupational voters. Their occupational activities have a direct impact on government and the political system.
Huntington and Dominguez (1975) suggested that political participation is the activities of people which are determined to impact government’s decision. These activities can be either law-abiding or against laws; using force or without and needlessly has to be successful or unsuccessful. Elections, participation in election campaigns and movement against government also considered as political participation.
In conclusion, political participation is an activity of individual which aims to have an influence on government’s decision. It is an action without specific attitude of ordinary citizen not political professional, i.e. election candidate and political party officer. The participation of an ordinary citizen is intermittent and less important than other roles in society; a part-time activity. More notably, an action aimed to have influence on government, which has the duty to allocate resources for the community, does not include the aim to affect the other groups of interests which is not involved with the government. Political participation can be self-intended of an individual or can be the activity which an individual is forced to commit.
Political Participation in Thailand
After the 1932 Revolution – before Thaksin’s period. Thomas Ehrlich[a26] (2000) believed that education is almost certainly the greatest tool in civic engagement. He states that “the more education people have, the more likely it is that they will participate in civic affairs” In other words, to become politically engaged, ones need to acquire skill and knowledge. This statement can be well applied to Thai society and its citizen’s political participation. Active political engagement is more likely to be seen in Bangkok where most of the residents are educated and have a good conception of democracy. On the contrary, people in remote provinces and rural areas with less or no education perceive politics, let alone democracy as something beyond their understandings. To them, earning livings and catering for families is of greater importance. Politics is sophisticated and meant only for politicians and those in the capital city; therefore, they pay very little interest to it (Onie[a27] , 2005). The only activity about politics they are accustomed to be going to vote. They are alerted, by the media, in corporation with the government agencies, to exercise their citizen rights when it comes to election. Yet, it is not the voluntary action according to democratic condition. Rather, they participate in the election as they are paid for their votes (Onie[a28] , 2005). Electoral fraud in Thai politics has been perceived very common in the society for so long. Everybody knows that it exist but they are prone to negligent and turn their eyes blind (McCargo, 2002). This is partly because the patronage system which is deeply rooted in Thailand for centuries. People, especially in the provincial cities, feel obliged to those who have helped them. On account of indebtedness, they vote for the politician in return to their favor of aid.
Contrastingly, as mentioned before, the active political engagement has been an activity of the upper and middle- class in Bangkok. The elites hold the key positions in the society; military, bureaucratic system, and business sector (Stent, 2010). They are a few thousand of people who shape the society. Political participation to them is therefore, a way to maintain their social and economic status, the comfort of life and a sense that everything is under their control. Whereas the upper class acts as a policy maker, the middle class is a group affected from those policies. The middle class has emerged as result of industrialization, urbanization and education expansion in the 1960s (Griling[a29] , cite in Prudhisan and Chantana, 2001). They have made drastic changes in Thai politics since 1970s, by supporting the 1973 student uprising against dictatorship. As a large-scale class dominates Bangkok, the middle class who largely comprises of Shino-Thai commercial bourgeoisie, play a pivotal role in Thai political landscape. They have better understandings about democracy and view it differently from the others Thais outside Bangkok (Pasuk, cited in Pudhisan [a30] and Chantana, 2001, p. 272). The expansion of the middle class, the high-educated academic, professional and executives were orientated towards the western norms and practices, as the development relied heavily on foreign investment. Consequently, the conception of democracy was conveyed in a western way. Anek (1995) pointed out that, democracy the middle class seeks, must not only be the structural format but also a “true” and “correct” form of democracy- the system emphasizing the policies, ideology and the capability of politicians in order to run the country and the election has to be operated on the political decision of individuals, without relation or patronage-client basis to the candidate and especially, vote-buying. However, the problem here is that Thai democratic system has acknowledges the election as the legitimizing sources of the government. Whereas the middle class perceive election as an inadequate, or at worst an invalid, sources of the legitimacy as a great number of votes were brought and, thus, failed to exercise their legitimacy with an independent and responsible judgment (Anek[a31] , 1996). Consequently, the middle class is unable to reach its objective of the political equality to other more powerful actors, and the old elite groups, claiming their legitimacy from the money politics, could continuously dominate the national agenda.
The political participation in Thailand is still limit in a small group of people as reasons described above; nevertheless, there are some contributory factors that impede the wide arena of participation. Firstly, the problem comes from the political culture. Participatory politics is the heart of democracy, but Thai political culture does not allow civil society to participate much in political activities. As the masses view politics as activity of blatant interests and dirty corruption, they lose faith in politics and are not willing to involve themselves in it. Still, there are those who engage, believingly because they wish for the exchange in different forms of helps (Onie[a32] , 2005). Secondly, there has been consistent insufficiency of the state to promote the political awareness among the Thais, especially the people in rural area. The majority of population acknowledges knew very little about their rights in democracy under the constitution. They believed that to act democratically is to go to vote. They barely knew that they have rights to protect and protest on the matters that are unjustified or harmful to their citizen’s rights. These obstacles were results of not having paid enough attention to raise awareness, either by the education system or the use of media. It can be concluded that Thai political participation after the 1932 Revolution were more in a passive way, only few groups of elites, academics and students participated in the political engagements. As only three major political upheavals occurred during this period, namely; the students revolt against military dictatorship in 1973 and again in 1976 and the Black May protest in 1992. The latter occurrence could be considered as the first mass protest that ever happened in Thai political atmosphere. It drew hundred thousands of people from varied class to demonstrate against the power inheritance of the National Peace Keeping Council or the military junta. Additionally, it was the also the first time mobile phones were used to communicate during the rally; the first time that media and communication was used as a tool to engage in political event. This protest was for this reason also known as “Mob Mue Tue” (mobile phone mob) (Anek[a33] , 1996).
Thaksin’s era – the present days. A landslide victory of the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001led to the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, the influential and ambitious leader; who was once the hope for many Thais to shape new politics. He came to power in the age of globalization and the emergence of the information technology. As a result, he benefited greatly from it. Being a visionary businessman and as expertise in telecommunication arena, Thaksin successfully used it as a tool to promote his famous populist policy; or widely known as Thaksinomics (Gunzdik, 2004). Having grown up in the upcountry, from the rural background, Thaksin experienced that poor people are the periphery citizens who have never been given adequate concentration from the preceded governments. And they had never asked for it as they were less aware of their actual rights and had no idea of the way to do it. Seeing this as a great opportunity to win the majority of voters, he had awakened the sleeping rural people to become aware of their political rights and that his government would treat them right and equally. As Stent (2010) stated, “Once awakened, the rural electorate has not returned to sleep”. In the meanwhile, resulting from Globalization, information technology has flourished in Thailand and gradually become available to the Thais, primarily to the upper and middle class households. People could since access to the Internet and have variety of channels to receive the news and information around the world, to name a few; cable TV, online radio and the social media. Alongside with the better education system, which was granted as the basic rights for all the children, the poor are since better educated. With these two factors, people are now having broader perspectives, different ways to see the world and most importantly, they have changed the attitudes toward the society and politics. Thanks to the advanced technology, the media can now communicate and deliver messages in various ways and reach more audiences in every corner. News and information around the globe is not limited any longer. Students, housewives or even the working class in remote areas can now watch CNN (Schütte & Ciarlante, 1998) and learn about the western culture and its people’s lives under democracy.
They can access to the same information and useful knowledge as does the scholar by simply going to Google. Nevertheless, a coin always has two sides, so do technology and media. When people are exposed to the overflow of information, they are required skills and experiences to distinguish each type of news and information. Without good sense of screening, they could receive wrong information or even being brainwashed. Another significant impact from media is that it is uncontrollable. Governments can, part of it, control the media and information they provide, whereas citizens are emphasizing their rights to freedom of press. Having read and seen what happens around the world, they now need it in their country, whether it is the transition, adaptation, development or abolition. This has resulted in public’s pressure on government to take action.
The turning point of the passive political participation into the active involvement in country’s most controversial political crisis has begun during years of Thaksin and his TRT’s administration. Having adopted and implemented the populist policies to win votes from promoting the six-year plan to diminish the poverty (Ammar [a34] & Somchai, 2007), it had raised many controversies among the Thais including academics and those in business environment. Yet, this was not the actual cause of the rift in Thai society. Thaksin with his slogan “Think New, Act New” governed the country as he did with his business, as he stated in 1997 that “a company is a country. A country is a company. They’re the same. The management is the same.”
Pasuk [a35] (2004) pointed out that with this reflection, Thaksin was acting as he was a CEO not a statesman. Therefore, it had led to wide criticisms about his style of ruling the country; a “big-business politics” which give the concessions to his family’ companies. He and his business cronies used the populist policies to conceal their corruptions and strengthen their business. He became much more powerful and wealthy after a few years of becoming the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, he did not get away very far from what he did. With the public forums held by Sondhi Limthongkul and broadcasted in the cable television, people found out the corruptions Thaksin did and demanded for declaration. It has raised much political awareness first among the elites and the middle class, especially in Bangkok. Gradually, it attracted more and more people from everywhere until the group of Yellow shirts was formed. There have been the uses of every media channel to spread out the information about Thaksin until it successfully ousted him from power. Since then the Thai people have been living in the political awareness, as it affect their daily lives, especially the Bangkokians who live in the centre of crisis. The methods of participatory have changed over time. Until recently, the new media in the form of social media has taken over the way to communicate, provide and deliver information to the masses during the burning of Bangkok. People gathered around the city as a result of a group founded on Facebook. Twitter has become the way to seek help from the voluntary units when death and injuries occurred. Most significantly, the two Prime Ministers responded to each other’ claims by twitting from the mobile phones.
Chapter 4: Methodology
Recent years have witnessed an increased use of the Internet in politics. The ubiquity of the Internet and the tools required to set up communities and groups with people from across the world have spawned a new era of camaraderie. Social networking sites such as Facebook and My space provide a platform where user-generated content can be shown to people across the word, thereby attracting a high level of media coverage (Grynbaum, 2006). An example is shown in the renowned U.S election where President Obama used Facebook to attain new political heights (New Statesman, 2007). Other examples range from Sarkozy in France to Iran politics. The power of sites such as Facebook is reflected in all these instances. This current trend will benefit from further insight provided through research work focusing on a qualitative analysis of Facebook as a political platform in Thailand.
A social network can be described as a gathering where people of similar interests, beliefs, attitudes and activities share ideas and form community relationships (Shah, 2010). Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace often have the online features that allow these people to register and join a “group” or “page” comprising people with similar interests. It embodies a form of active user participation where users can share news stories, emails, instant messages and RSS feeds (Shah, 2010). Such sites have grown immensely over the last decade especially in the areas of social relations, marketing and politics. The objective of politics is usually to garner support by getting masses of people to believe in the proposed political objectives. The attraction that Facebook holds for many users no doubt, underscores its central importance in the field of politics. Conducting research into such a contemporary area will not only provide empirical understanding of such phenomena but will guide future political campaigns and academic research that aim to unravel the intricacies involved in the use of social networking sits for achieving political ends.
Qualitative Research Methods
The early research days were characterized by a large preference for quantitative research methods. By the early 90s, the preponderance of positivism had reduced, creating a strong movement for qualitative research methods across the social science field (Walsham, 1995). Miles and Huberman (1994) described qualitative research as one that employs the use of words, contrary to the use of numbers. This implies that the researcher has to devote a considerable amount in the field, observing the occurrences and taking the time to make sense of them. It is however important to point out that qualitative researchers do not accept the notion of generalizability, preferring instead, an interpretivist and relativist position Archer (1988).
Archer (1988) was of the opinion that qualitative research assumes the following positions within research: 1) Qualitative research provides a complementary method to be applied along with quantitative research in the sense that it allows the discovery of other research questions that may not be apparent from the beginning of the research process 2) Qualitative research can be viewed as a precursor that provides insight into new fields of study that may be analyzed using positivist methods 3) Qualitative research is the only “true” approach, with quantitative methods being regarded as a pseudo-science approach. Qualitative research is thus a type of inquiry that focuses on amassing information relating to human behavior, the reasons that govern their behavior, i.e. the how and why of the phenomenon under study (Archer, 1988).
According to Warren (1988), numerous typologies have been proposed for qualitative interviews, with little agreement reached by researchers. Popular categorizations however include structured, unstructured and open-ended interviews. Qualitative interviewing is a method of interviewing in which the researcher prepares the tools needed in advance. The results of the interview are subsequently analyzed and reported for the purpose of the research. The questions posed are structured and open-ended, leaving the participants enough room to provide information on their own perception of the situation. It involves the researcher’s use of his reflexive and effective interviewing skills to address the research issues. During qualitative interviews, the researcher becomes a learner, getting people to provide critical research information or describe their experiences from their points of view. The qualitative researcher focuses on the completeness and accuracy of the results obtained during the process (Rubin & Rubin, 1995, p.2). According to Warren (1988), Qualitative interviews are mostly used in an exploratory manner, allowing the injection of subjective perceptions. The researcher does not assume that all the research questions are clear from the onset.
Definitions of Qualitative Interview
There have been many definitions proposed for the qualitative research interviews. Kvale (1996) describes a qualitative research interview as one that provides meanings to central issues within the world of the subjects under study. The main purpose here is the thorough understanding of what the interviewees say. It can also be defined as a method of eliciting the story of a person’s experiences relating to a central theme or area of concern.
Interviews in contrast to questionnaires, are a more formal method of eliciting information. The use of telephone interviews implies that the researcher has ample time to pose follow-up questions though it is perceived to be a time-consuming and resource intensive process. During interviews, the researcher is also seen as a research tool and has to be reflexive enough to make inferences, sort out opinions, and respond to contingencies and impressions (Cornford & Smithson, 2006). The type of interview adopted in this research is the telephone interview, which is best applicable when the research is being conducted within a strict time frame. It allows a form of personal contact between the researcher and the participant.
Characteristics of Qualitative Interviews
In qualitative research, the interview tends to proceed in a less structured manner. The interviewers’ perspectives are at the core of the interview, leading the researcher to depart significantly from any pre-planned schedule. With qualitative interviews, the researcher is looking for detailed, rich and enlightening answers (Cornford & Smithson, 2006).
Qualitative research methods are also characterized by analyzing unstructured information such as details received from phone calls, emails and using these data to gain further insight into peoples’ value systems, behaviors, culture and lifecycles. Unlike quantitative research, it places a heavy emphasis on subjective understanding, as opposed to numbers.
Qualitative research is a form of scientific research that seeks answers to questions, collects evidence and produces results that could not have been pre-determined. In research that involves the use of culturally specific information such as values, behaviors and social contexts, qualitative research is best. This is the main reason why this method of inquiry is adopted in this research. It is particularly useful in explaining social phenomena and individual experiences (IFH, n.d.). Another one of the major advantages of qualitative research is that it allows participants the flexibility of providing information in their own words, as opposed to forcing a specific response from them.
The main objective of sampling is choosing a set of data or research objects that are most representative of the entire population that is being studied (Lohr, 2009). Even though there are different types of sampling, it is beyond the scope of this methodology to provide an exhaustive insight into all their methodologies. This study however made use of purposive sampling as a way of selecting the ten participants. Purposive sampling can be described as selecting participants based on a particular research question (Kopac, 1991). As in the case of this research, only research participants that participated in the political uprising using Facebook as a platform were selected for this interview.
After clarifying the criteria through which the research participants would be chosen, they were chosen randomly so long as they fulfilled the criteria of having been involved in the political movement in Thailand via Facebook.
The Interview Process
The interviews lasted for approximately 30 minutes per participant. Each participant during the interview was given the opportunity to share their experiences in politics on how they used Facebook to fight for the cause that they believed in. The participants had earlier been given the opportunity to choose a convenient time during which the researcher could place the telephone interview phone calls in order to ensure that the interviews were conducted at a time suitable to the participants. The interviews were conducted in a semi-structured manner during which participants were allowed to guide the progress of the interview by providing insights into their experiences based on the questions posed by the researcher.
In order to commence the interview stage of the research, the researcher chose a convenient place/location that was quiet, with minimal chances of disturbance/distraction, during which to place the phone calls. The format of the interview was explained to each of the participants at the beginning of each telephone session so that they were aware of how the interview was progressing and could continually measure how much time it would take. Recording and notes were taken throughout the whole process using, recorder; paper and pen to record the answers and follow-up questions that came up during the course of the interview were addressed and recorded. The interviewees were also provided with the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any doubts on the interview process that they had. The researcher took notes during the interview, recorded the interview sessions for future use and also followed up with the participants on relevant questions as necessary after the interview.
This research was conducted by interviewing 10 participants who are members of the Facebook social networking site. The participants were interviewed on their views on the impacts of social networking on politics. The qualitative research method adopted in this research work was an in-depth Interview conducted via the telephone. The interview involved the use of semi-structured questions which were prepared well in advance of the interview date. The interview documentation was transcribed and analyzed using the new social media theory to arrive at the research findings. This research centers on how social networking affects politics and in particular involves an analysis of how Facebook users had a major role in a recent political upheaval that took place in Thailand.
The main research questions that this research attempts to provide answers to include the following:
1. How has Facebook become the main social media for news dissemination?
2. How has Facebook been able to garner support from people as a platform for political interventions?
3. What motivates individuals to join political groups on social networking sites?
4. What are the main reasons why an individual would join political factions in real life political scenarios?
5. What is the individual reaction after participating in such protests? Can such feelings be generalized?
6. Do social networking sites affect an individual’s political awareness, especially after participating in a group activity?
7. Does an individual’s interest in politics increase after such an activity?
This section of the research work provides insights into the methods used and the justification for the research approaches adopted.
Interview Duration and Data Transcribing
The telephone interview was conducted via overseas call, over a period of one month in 30-minute intervals. The process of transcribing begun right after the interviews had finished. The data was first read, and then the essential information was translated from Thai into English. Finally, the similar answers were grouped together, ready to be analyzed.
The purpose of the interview was explained to all participants so that they were aware of where the information they provided would end up. In some cases, people may not welcome the intrusion of a phone call. To prevent any inconvenience to the participants, the researcher gave the participants the option of choosing a time that was convenient for them so that the interview phone calls could be placed. Participants were also assured that all information provided would be treated as confidential, withholding names in all instances. Interviews are regarded as one of the most common tools of qualitative research as well as one of the most flexible research tools. It offers an effective means through which to collect subjective qualitative data (Cornford & Smithson, 2006). The researcher conducted the research by consciously avoiding bias and considering different points of view while weighing them objectively.
Among the major constraints to the interview include the amount of time allotted for the entire research and the number of participants that were available during the research. Such intricate research questions would require interviewing more than ten participants over a longer period of time and perhaps in different political scenarios. Face-to-face interviews and observation sessions conducted over a longer period of time may also have allowed for a more extensive exploration of the issues involved.
Also, telephone interviews tend to be time-restrictive. There was a limit to the number of questions that could be asked and answered during the allotted period of time. Face-to-face interviews usually allow for lengthier and more convenient conversations during which different issues can be discussed at length.
Chapter 5: Findings and Discussion
This section provides the general findings gathered from the ten interviewees. The findings will be presented under the interview questions themes, respectively. Then data will be summarized and discussed in the discussion part.
The age of the interviewees ranges between 19- 55 years old, with the majority of teenagers aged 20-25.
All of the interviewees have at least undergraduate degree, whereas two of them are qualified Master Degree.
The majority of the interviewees reside in Bangkok. A few others live in the Metropolitan Area. None of them are from provincial cities.
Length of using Facebook
The interviewee with the least time using Facebook is one year and six months. All the others have been joining Facebook for more than 4 years. The longest time of the interviewees signing up to Facebook is six years.
Reason for using Facebook
The reasons given by the all interviewees for using Facebook is for social networking. Two interviewee use Facebook for communicating with friends, they say that Facebook is better social networking site than the Hi5, which is also the same type of social networking sites. Two of the interviewees also use Facebook for entertainments i.e. games and quizzes.
No parliament Dissolution Group
Decision to become Members. The main reasons for joining the group are almost the same. The interviewees joined the group because they saw their friends become members of the group. Another reason is that this group has the same political attitude as the interviewees. Also, they want to show the others on Facebook that they do not agree with the demand for parliament dissolution from the Red shirts. One interviewee also states that “It is one method of using technology to participate in politics without going out because gatherings in public places may cause difficulties for others” Mr. T
Posting Comments. Most of the interviewees are only the readers and observers; they have never posted any comments. Only three of them have posted their opinions and discussed in the group. However, all of them follow the update news of the group every time they log in to Facebook.
The Multi-colored Shirt group
Decision to Join the Gatherings. There are many reasons the interviewees decided to go out at the gatherings. Firstly, they want to protest the Red shirts. Secondly, they say they hate the mob and could not stand to have such a long period of occupancy, causing troubles to Bangkok and its residents. Thirdly, two of the interviewees say they want the Red shirts to know that they came to the gatherings with “free-will” and were not paid to join. Lastly, three of the interviewees say they want to express their loves to country and loyalty to the king.
The Atmosphere/Feeling During the Gathering. The feelings of the interviewees are not different. All of them say they could feel the warmth and joy amid thousands of people. They also state that the gatherings and the singing of national anthem together make them ever more proud to be Thai. It was discovered that one interviewee feel she was threatened by the red shirts during the gatherings.
The Frequency of the Participation. Seven of the interviewees joined the gatherings twice, whereas one university student, whose university situated near the gathering place, went to all of the gatherings being hosted. One United Nation officer joined three times and a medical student from UK went there once.
Accompanying Person. Five of the interviewees went to the meetings with their families and friends. The rest of them joined together with their friends.
Change in Political Attitude after the Gatherings. Four of the interviewees say that they have had stronger feelings towards politics and the current political situation. Three interviewees state that they have already been interested in politics for a long time and their attitudes have not changed after the gatherings. One student says that she has never had a fond for politics and the meeting did not change it, she only interests in protecting the King and the royal family. The last two of them feel the unity and nationalism after the meetings
Membership of the Other Political Group
One of the interviewee is not a member of any other group. Three of them are members of political group with neutral attitude. Another three join the page of the Prime Minister Abhisit. Two interviewees are fans of a page “We love the King”. And one of them says he is a member of every group that is about the King, the Prime Minister and anti the Red shirts.
Opinion about the Impact of Social Networking Sites on Politics
The results are various but much in the same way that social networking sites have great impacts on society and politics. They say it is the fastest way to communicate and deliver messages and is very useful. One interviewee gives different point of view about the advantage of social networking for Thai people.
Alternative Ways in Expressing Political Opinions if There were no Gatherings
Six of the interviewees say if there is no gatherings set up, they would discuss in person with families, friends and use the Facebook and other social media to express their opinions. Three interviewees say they would sit boringly at home following up the news from television. One of the three say she prefer television to newspaper as she does not believe in it. Alternatively, one officer says she would use the method of sending SMS instead.
From the findings, it can be clearly seen that the group of people joining the gatherings are in their teen aged to middle aged. They are highly educated people living in the capital city, therefore; the battle between the Multi-colored and the Red shirts is regarded as the “class war”.
People join the multicolored shirt group as a protest group against the redshirt group. This is then distributed to other people who are requested to join the group in an effort to campaign against the redshirt group. This groups gain popularity and in the end when they have more people supporting their views, they end up bringing down the rioting group through influence and logic. People want to join these groups because they find the rioting group being a menace to the general public.
When people who had joined the campaign groups were questioned as to the reasons for their joining, some said that they had joined because their friends had joined. This shows how influential the social network is in the world as friends influence their friend to join groups and therefore make more contributions to the issues that have been brought up to the public that need to be discussed, known or clarified. Many of the friends within the Facebook have become friends by sharing and viewing information about those people and their interests and if whatever information that they have shared interests them, then they just send a request to be friends with that particular person and once the request is confirmed, then whatever that person says or does within the Facebook can be tracked. This makes it easy for people to know what is happening without turning on the television sets to view the daily happenings (Campaign against biased media information, 2010).
Some people have found themselves having the same political attitudes and this makes them want to join certain organizations that come up to drum up support for their countries. It is very easy to find anything on the social network and this enables people to search for terms that seem to interest them and in that they come across what they like. Sometimes they may not be necessarily looking for that particular group but when they place a search for friends or an activity, then all possible outcomes of their search are displayed and they end up finding that they want to join a certain group as they share similar attitudes.
There are those who will join the groups just for fun or as they put it out of free will. They also (those who join out of free will), do contribute and share their ideas concerning various issues and also question about other things. This helps not only in socializing but also in understanding better about the situations on the ground as people who are close or living in those areas can give more accurate information to the world. There are people that join the groups to show their loyalty to their country and the love they share for Thailand. After joining the groups, some have confessed to having stronger feelings for their country now more than ever. This feeling breeds confidence and supplying of good information to woo more people to visit and not fear Thailand.
Some are great fans of the royal families and when they find an avenue where they can express their fanaticism, they do that with great pleasure and enthusiasm. Most of them like to go protecting the royal family and the King which to them is a great treasure and an honor. There are few who join the groups formed in the social networks to demonstrate unity and deep national values for their mother land Thailand.
Alternatively, the online citizens also have various ways of viewing, sharing and expressing their opinions, mostly through television, other social media and discuss in public with friends and families. However, there are people who view the old media like newspaper as biased media and tend to be more satisfied to keep themselves updated via Internet.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Throughout the research, it can be clearly seen that social media has an impact on politics and increasingly become a crucial tool for both politicians and the public to be success in politics. The recent gatherings of the Multi-colored shirts may not be the reason of the end of the turbulence but it significantly discern the society of the power of the used to be-silent people which have been effectively using the power of social media to voice their concerns and to express their feelings. Thai people are by characteristics shy and do not speak straightforwardly. They regard other feelings importantly and are used to the indirectly talking. The online social networks enable people to speak up easier, faster and louder. As in Thai culture-similar to many Asian countries we hardly express our opinion in public, therefore typing is much easier than talking against anyone or anything and many people could see your opinion easily online plus corresponds could be made quickly and the updated information could be spread extremely fast. Without these online instruments, many of Thai people who are culturally polite, would keep quiet and would let the situation go wherever the wind could have blown.
In Thai society, once things happen and become public’s interest, they become trends. When they are trends, it is “trendy” to follow. The Multi-colored shirts may not be the first group to use Facebook or other social media to engage in politics but they have set the trend of the ability to persuade the masses by using the online society. Apparently, the Red shirts are identified as “Grassroot class” whereas “Punyachon”(educated people) is the term used to call the Multi-colored shirts and classify them to be above its opponent. It is because most of them reside in Bangkok and are educated people, able to communicate online where most sites are in English. It is commonly called the war between classes. However, this tends to change in the future. The Red will not limit themselves to the old media as they now know that the media they are used to may not be able to effectively use to compete with the rival anymore. Absolutely, there will not be a sudden change in a short time but sooner or later, social media will become the important instrument for the Red, as well as the politicians, government agencies, the military or anybody who wish for the advantage in politics.
In conclusion, it is a fact that the Facebook social network allows users to connect at any time of day or night. Time is not limited and it is always online. This social network hub has made the marginalized and the remotely located people to share their views and ideas from anywhere anytime and their views are also heard. Social networks have made it easier to send and receive messages between groups of thoughts, which consequently turn to pressure group that impacts the politics and society.