With a dark lantern, Guy Fawkes lights an online frenzy

With a dark lantern, Guy Fawkes lights an online frenzy

Remember, remember, the 27th of May, the internet, Guy Fawkes and Thaksin Shinawatra.

OK, you might not remember that so let me refresh your memory. This week, an anti-Thaksin Facebook campaign that has users posting images of Guy Fawkes on the social network, has got the Pheu Thai-led government crying foul.

The campaign has been organised in order to counter what they call the "Thaksin regime". The group has even gone so far as to post messages on the ruling party's profile page such as "The people's army has risen and it will root out the Thaksin regime from the country."

In response, Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit has called the group "unethical" and "psychologically disturbed".

Do you remember now? It's OK if you don't, it's not huge news yet. But judging by the response of the Pheu Thai Party, they don't remember what happens to governments who try to silence the power of Facebook.

Throwing around statements like "This kind of political comment is an act of mentally disturbed people" and looking into ways to punish the group under the Computer Crimes Act is a good way to kick off Thailand's very own Arab Spring.

Quick question: How successful have the following Facebook groups been? Americans Against Barack Obama? Conservatives Against Obama and His Liberal Agenda? 10 Million United Against David Cameron?

How about Occupy Wall Street, a group that also employed the use of Guy Fawkes masks?

I'll give you a hint, it starts with "not successful" and ends with "at all". And did anyone try to ban these movements? Not even a little bit.

Now, how about we look at countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Syria that were under attack by social media but did in fact ban and block users from saying what they wanted to say. I think we all know how that turned out.

Once again, Thailand's insular attitudes and 30-years-out-of-date approach to controlling political propaganda could do more harm than good. Accusing those with opposing political views of being mentally ill is simply adding fuel to the fire - a fire that most people will have forgotten about in a few weeks.

It is an unfortunate truth that given the rapid speed of technological advancement people's attention spans have declined. When a new craze hits it does so with frightening intensity, but like a firework, it dies out as quickly as it explodes.

Remember planking, naen ok and the Harlem Shake? At one point each of these activities threatened to bring down modern society, but where are they now?

If they truly want to make sure that this movement doesn't run wild then they shouldn't give it legs. It is strange that a government that came to power on the back of a surprisingly media savvy protest movement would then turn around and make the same mistakes their predecessors made.

During the red-shirt protests in 2010, outside of Thailand, the world's media was clearly leaning in favour of anti-government supporters. The BBC does love to root for the underdog. And as a result they are remembered as history's winners (again, outside of Thailand).

Attempting to crack down on peaceful protesters is how you turn the world against you. And there is no one lazier than a Facebook protester. From a public relations perspective, playing the villain is likely to cause you all sorts of problems. The government has the right to react to inflammatory remarks made against it, but it would be prudent to do so with a softer touch.

Here's a little free advice for the Pheu Thai Party - it would be in your best interests to praise the ingenuity of the democratic process in Thailand and the ability for people to voice their opinions in a sensible and safe way. Don't be the first to throw stones; the moderates will hate you for it. And in the end once this Guy Fawkes movement has been and gone, the public will remember how the government allowed them to express themselves freely and without fear.

And here's a penny for the Guy - keep your protesting online. If you wish to effect change do so from the bottom up. Guy Fawkes was a terrorist whose attempt to restore a Catholic monarchy failed. Thailand has had enough of people trying to incite change through violence. Your novelty protesting will soon be forgotten but by continuing to sensibly offer opposing political views through the vast network of social media you may get what you are fighting for at the next general election.

Arglit Boonyai is Digital Media Editor, Bangkok Post.

Arglit Boonyai

Multimedia Editor

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