In the ante-Facebook, pre-Twitter, afore-social network era, how did you hurl insults at your enemies? Let me paraphrase, how did you publicise your hatred of someone, the hatred so unforgiving to that person's soul and maybe to your own? In other words, how did you call him/her names in public for the full humiliating effect _ the humiliation of that person and maybe, again, that boomerangs to hit you?
I guess there were many ways, too many and too depressing to list here, usually involving writing something in newspapers. But note: I've been using the past tense (the greatest tense in the English language), because in the present, a great implication of the social media - isn't that a tautology? - is that you can insult, defame, verbally abuse anybody instantly, literally nanoseconds after you're consumed by the dark impulse, or by unpardonable animosity, or by paranoia, or by fear. The debate whether Facebook is a private or public sphere will continue. The easy interpretation is, if your setting is "public", then it is. It's equivalent to putting up a manifesto on the wall in the town square for all to see, friends or otherwise. But even if you don't set your post as "public" but your friends share it out to the world, exponentially sometimes, what's meant to be private may not entirely be under your control.
Part of this refers to the case of famous cartoonist Chai Rachawat who made an allusive sneer, on Facebook naturally, contrasting or comparing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a certain oldest profession, with a play on a particular word, "whore". The assumption that prostitutes are worse than the rest of humanity is whore-ifying to begin with, but that's another debate. The PM sued Chai on Friday, though the cartoonist vowed on his Facebook page that he would never let his supporters down. Meanwhile the PM's sycophants have urged the shutdown of any web pages that dare to criticise their mistress with sensitive metaphors. Chai's cheerleaders are clamouring about freedom of speech, while countering that the other camp has on many occasions called their idol Abhisit Vejjajiva something worse. The volleys are thrown back and forth. Sodom and Gomorrah! We've lived to see the day when Thailand wallows in the apocalypse of pettifogging nonsense, or as some might agree, in the universe's Whore-of-Fame.
I won't wade into the soupy swamp of current politics (well, not in this section). Whether Yingluck is a robot or ro-botch, whether Chai is an advocate of democracy or demock-cracy, pundits have voiced their share of punditry. So, my only curiosity here is this: how great is the allure of instant gratification offered by social media that it prods us to shoot first and think later? Or to do away with the thinking altogether? How is our thought process affected in the age when we all can self-publish practically anything at any time?
The democracy of opinion can stray close to an anarchy of voices, and while freedom of speech is always an ideal and censorship always the devil, technology that flatters instantaneousness and narcissism requires much caution. We're enjoying that speed, but we're also adjusting to it. Let me get this straight: I respect the right to insult, and I respect even more the culture of tolerance. We don't have much hope for those verbal terrorists - perating online, mostly - who brandish hate speech as if it were a certificate of their lunacy, but we have hope, much hope, for established, respected, intelligent figures from both camps to choose vitriolic phrases more carefully, more creatively, and in a way that can sway our belief and win support based on reason and not on impulse and prejudice.
Old-school journalism is in danger because, online, everybody can be a journalist - a journalist with no need for an editor. That's great. But that's also a headache, at least now while we're still trying to grasp the meaning of our own voices when they are spoken aloud. Were he to publish his comment in a paper, would Chai's editor, for instance, have told him to think twice because while he had the right to do so, it's not always smart to insult your foes in public in such a crude manner? This applies to "the other side" who seem to equally enjoy slagging off their adversaries as well, and roughly with the same degree of aggression.
It's bad enough that the political divide has gone to our heads and driven us nuts. But while we take advantage of the democracy of voices brought on by social media, let's also take a step back every time we want to publicise our affection or hatred and realise that not every private emotion has to become public property. We need to stay sober, because lately it looks like we all have been drunk with Facebook and alco-whore. I'm telling myself that, too.
Kong Rithdee is deputy Life editor.
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor