Mark’s background articles; timely, extremely well written and insightful daily stream of news from the battleground in Thailand’s capitol should win awards. His latest – for Saturday’s Globe and Mail “Twitter’s role in Bangkok conflict unprecedented” – notes how Twitter has fostered the Red Shirts, maybe was a tool that lead to the escalation – and also may have saved lives.
Never before has a social media website played the kind of role in a conflict that Twitter has played in Thailand’s nine-week-old anti-government uprising, keeping people informed even as it amplified the hate on both sides of the country’s divide. Some say Twitter – or rather its users – may have even saved lives as fighting consumed the streets of Bangkok.
More clearly, it was used by propagandists on both sides to get their message out, and by ordinary Thais to express their frustrations at the situation and to warn each other about which areas of Bangkok to avoid as the city descended into urban warfare. With many websites censored and Thailand’s traditional media deeply divided into pro- and anti-government camps, it arguably became the only forum where you could get a clear picture of what was really going on.
“Twitter is the only place where we can say things freely,” said Poomjit Sirawongprasert, an Internet freedom activist who sometimes updates her Twitter feed a dozen times an hour and became one of the go-to sources for information about what was happening in whatever neighbourhood of Bangkok she happened to be in. “The propaganda is not good, but because of the speed, people can check and cross-check. If you put something out there that’s untrue, within 30 minutes the truth will come out because people will show evidence, photos and videos.”
Of course, Mark may have forgotten about the protests and violence in Iran, which was largely only reported through Twitter (and other social media platforms like Youtube) to the world due to restrictions on journalists, but certainly within Thailand it is unprecedented.
His story on being trapped with wounded and dying Thais and international journalists is moving, and notable for a real life example of how a platform like Twitter may have helped save lives…
With my colleague Andrew Buncombe unable to move after being shot Wednesday night inside the temple – and other injured people dying around us from lack of medical care – I first telephoned embassies, hospitals and the International Committee for the Red Cross. Then I put out an all-call on Twitter, hoping my “followers” in Bangkok would use their own contacts to help us.
“Please RT,” I wrote, using the shorthand for “retweet,” or spread the word. “People around me are dying because they can’t get to hospital across the road because of fighting.” I attached a picture I had taken with my BlackBerry of three wounded men beside me, one of whom appeared near death after being shot in the back.
“More people will die inside Wat Patum unless we get ceasefire to get to hospital across the road,” I added a few minutes later, as my desperation grew.
Within minutes, my pleas had indeed been retweeted hundreds, maybe thousands of times, in English, Thai and other languages. They were posted on the websites of Britain’s The Guardian newspaper and other international media. People I knew only through Twitter started calling me to check on our situation. More helpfully, others started calling embassies, hospitals and the Thai government.
Eighty minutes later, I was carrying stretchers out to a row of waiting ambulances. “Twitter may just have done this,” was my next update.
Twitter is fast becoming the news source of choice – for journalists and consumers. The online communication revolution continues, and it is fascinating.