The recent violent conflict in Thailand was motivated by a desire for Bangkok’s government to step down, and also for equality for the people of Thailand, as one protestor told the New York Times: “Everywhere in the world, development has arrived. The problem is we are slower, and we remain behind.” There are several divisions within Thai society that will almost certainly be catalysts for change – a class divide, a political divide, and a digital divide.
The class divide will now be visibly displayed by the colour of one’s shirt. Those who wish to show allegiance to the government (generally the middle class elite from the city) wear yellow, and those who support the demands of the antigovernment protestors (viewed as less educated) wear red.
The political divide that caused crippling damage to major business centres in Thailand is predicted to have a devastating effect on Thailand’s ability to compete economically and politically on the world stage. The recent military crackdown may have removed protestors from Bangkok but the underlying tensions that sparked the protests haven’t been addressed. The belief that further political unrest is almost inevitable is preventing foreign investors from having the confidence and trust to maintain a presence in the currently unstable country.
And lastly, there have been several reports that highlight the important role that the digital divide is playing in determining who has access to information in Thailand, and who has the power to communicate through digital media. The type of political sentiments that are expressed through different forms of media reflect the digital divide of media users that exists in Thailand.
While traditional media in the form of community radio stations broadcast messages of anger towards the government and are largely controlled by people from the lower classes who support the red shirts, or United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), citizens with more privileged backgrounds are using social networking sites to communicate their opposition to the UDD.
The vice-chairperson for a media watchdog in Thailand said, “You will see how divided Thailand is by following Facebook, blogs and Twitter…when the political crisis began in March, Facebook became popular for the Thai urban, middle-class educated people to express their opinions and anger.”
The use of the internet as a forum for creating user-generated content and communicating about the current events in Thailand is steadily growing. But the implications of technological inequality in the country highlights the perpetuation of other forms in inequality and the ability of all citizens to utilise digital media to express their political opinions is unfortunately far away from becoming a reality.