A time for tolerance
The furore over a tweet by Foodpanda linking anti-government protests to "terrorism" is a reminder that tolerance is sorely needed when political and social rifts have become the "new normal" in the country.
The case has shown how strongly people with certain political beliefs feel about their causes and how quickly they can react to defend to what they perceive to be violations.
It's doubly unfortunate for the country's second-largest online delivery platform that it was caught on the wrong side of both the ultraconservative royalists and pro-democracy progressives. The platform has become the target of a boycott from supporters by both sides and has suddenly found itself an unpleasant new status as a case study for crisis management.
The controversy which could exacerbate the discontent and social divisiveness started to brew during Sunday's anti-government protest which saw police fire water, teargas and rubber bullets as they tried to stop demonstrators from reaching Government House.
A user tweeted a clip showing a man and woman on a motorcycle. A food box was fitted on it bearing what looked like the Foodpanda logo. The user claimed some protesters were trying to burn a royal portrait and he gave clues on who the people were in the photo, urging officials to take action.
Foodpanda Thailand's official Twitter account replied, saying the company would take drastic action against the rider by terminating his employment immediately.
The tweet also said that Foodpanda has a policy against violence and all forms of "terrorism" and is willing to help officials take legal action against offenders.
The tweet, which was later removed, unleashed a ferocious backlash. The #banfoodpanda hashtag came up as net users and food operators rattled by the platform's choice of words and attitude towards anti-government demonstrators withdrew from being delivery partners or removed the app from their phones.
Foodpanda on Monday apologised saying it will investigate the matter. The official announcement said the comment on the official Twitter account did not represent the company's standpoint. It also assured that Foodpanda respects freedom of expression and does not equate it to an act of terrorism.
While some netizens are cautioning that the boycott will hurt riders, most of whom are struggling to make a living during the health crisis, more than the company or its social media administrators, the outrage and boycott have showed no signs of abating.
The heat intensified after police arrested the rider and charged him with royal defamation. Following the news, an ultra-royalist group called on people to ban Foodpanda as well.
This is a truly difficult time with the pandemic wreaking havoc and almost a hundred people dying each day. it would be marvellous if we didn't have to deal with political divisiveness on top of the epidemic and the public health crisis.
But the reality being what it is, there is no avoiding the hard truth that people in the country are divided. The fault lines are running through generations, political ideologies, opinions about the monarchy and even which brand of Covid-19 vaccine would be best for the country at this juncture.
The Foodpanda uproar has clearly shown how sensitive the situation is and how a single incident can easily snowball if it is not handled carefully. This is a time for tolerance. Without it, the risk is high that violence could ensue.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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