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Battlefield online [Bangkok Post, Thailand :: ]
[June 08, 2014]

Battlefield online [Bangkok Post, Thailand :: ]

(Bangkok Post (Thailand) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 09--If companies are managing social media for their businesses, it might be useful to know about some of the most surprising statistics from the coup.

This coup has shown a demographic shift of social media users to the older generation. Unlike in previous coups when online communication was more limited to the 13-20 age group, this time it was university students and adults in metropolitan Bangkok who acted as the online medium of information ? real or just rumours.

The growth of broadband penetration, mobile devices and the popularity of social media in Thailand is making online communication ? particularly video and social network sites and social messaging apps ? strategic communication tools in political cyber warfare.

Authenticity becomes an issue as each side of the political polar tries to reach and bombard their audiences with information. The military has not only established a firm direct line of communication but also has to drown out noise from both sides.

Thailand's broadband penetration and smartphone use are still below 40% of the population.

"The scale of the information war would be wider and stronger if this was South Korea or Japan, which have higher internet penetration," said Teera Kanokkanjanarat, senior ICT analyst of Frost & Sullivan Thailand.

Social media in Thailand are used by more than 40% of the population. The country ranks 12th for the number of Facebook users globally, while Bangkok has more Facebook users than any other city. The kingdom is the second-largest market for the Line messaging application.

Online life after the coup has been characterised by paranoia and political sensitivity as opposing viewpoints clash and burn. This has prompted the National Council for Peace and Order to announce measures to control electronic communications as one of four prioritised tasks, highlighting the importance of online media channels.

Prohibiting provocative political websites is one of the key elements to control the spread of rumour and disruptive messages, said Mr Teera.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry closed down 219 web pages from May 22-27 under martial law, while it urged collaboration with global social media providers such as Line and Facebook to take down provocative content.

However, more importantly, it was seeking to get across its messages as quickly and directly as possible in order to eliminate any negative reaction from rumours. Catching and detaining those online influencers who post rumours and provocative messages might affect more than just the prohibited websites and also damage social media providers.

"Video is one of the main media channels that politicians use to reach their audiences when satellite TV and radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting," said technical security expert Prinya Hom-anek.

During this coup, political activists are easily uploading video content to YouTube by recording a video clip on their smartphone and also using YouTube's Live streaming service to broadcast in real time to their audience.

Mr Prinya also works voluntarily to gather cyber warriors to fight and detect online political activists, cyber bullies and social media propaganda, with offending URLs likely to be blocked.

In the long run, the government and military need to have sophisticated technical equipment that can intercept data to monitor and battle with cyber attacks.

Soranun Jiwasurat, director of the Thai Computer Emergency Response Team under the Electronic Transaction Development Agency, said current technology allows users to hide their IP addresses to protect their location.

Moreover, some web pages are difficult to block. In this case, authorities need to block the entire website, similar to the process in China, where global social media sites are blocked to control inappropriate content.

Another industry source suggested that Thailand should have a law to mandate global online service providers to cooperate with the government in removing security-related content faster because of the huge number of social media users in the country.

Anan Kaewrumwong, president of the Thai Internet Service Provider Association, agreed with the ICT Ministry's policy to set up a national internet gateway to ban provocative content. Thailand needs to allow the interception of data to fully control and monitor online content.

Pavut Pongvityapanu, founder of Zocial Inc, a social media ranking and analytics firm, said this coup marked the first time that the military had issued a warning to monitor rumours and messages.

"This demonstrated that online channels have become one of the main communications apart from mainstream media amid the intense communications battleground," he said.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Line private chat room groups are being heavily used during the coup to spread rumours, gather people and attack opposing sides.

Mr Pavut said the army should not close down social media sites but should take down specific URLs instead because closing sites would affect online merchants and advertisers.

Technology is available to detect and analyse social media use.

Leading local digital agency McFiva's managing director Supachai Parchariyanon said political leaders need to add digital channels to their strategic communications as has happened in the business world.

Those leaders needs to reserve domain names and Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate directly with their audience and respond to rumours immediately.

"During this coup, there are fake Facebook accounts and fake sources luring citizens under the name of the National Council for Peace and Order in Thai already 'liked' by many," Mr Supachai said.

Thailand should promote a "check and share" culture among online users to raise awareness about checking news is from a trusted source before sharing with others.

Mana Treerayapiwat, a communication arts lecturer at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said this coup has seen a flood of rumours and deceptive news via social media.

The army needs to respond quickly to false news through its formal online social media accounts and main media.

Warning and detaining online rumour sources are an effective way to eliminate rumours and online attackers, preventing potential violence. As the internet generation grows, there is a serious need to educate users about online media literacy before they share information with others.

Previous coups have focused on capturing transport routes, phone lines and broadcasting. This coup's battlefield is shifting to mobile communications and digital media control, said Mr Mana.

___ (c)2014 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand) Visit the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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