Web warriors unite for an F5 rebellion
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Web warriors unite for an F5 rebellion

This past week ultra-royalists converged at the US Embassy while ultra-malcontents converged on the F5 button. How the world has changed, and how sad that some people are still stuck in a medieval fortress, trying to fend off invaders with hot oil and poisoned arrows?

The ultra-royalists, protesting against Human Rights Watch, said it was fine to ignore human rights in order to achieve more control, more surveillance, and maybe more persecution. As if we hadn’t had enough. The ultra-malcontents, protesting against the idiotic single gateway plan, are asking for the opposite: in the world of free-flowing data, a world where internet access is about to become a basic human right and where Mark Zuckerberg was invited to join the UN debate session, state control of information is primitive and out of touch with reality, and is only practised by paranoid generals.

The F5 attacks made it clear how our generals could look like a bumbling granddad trying to find the delete button (I know there are trendy granddads who’re deft at computers, but not in this junta). On that night of armchair rebellion, an assortment of gamers, hecklers and freedom fighters staged a virtual sit-in by visiting the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) website and bombarding traffic by repeatedly pressing F5, the refresh button. The site crashed, and later at least three more government sites suffered the same F5 overkill. The “organisers” said it was a symbolic mockery of the ministry and its plan — or a cabinet decision, as a document shows — to set up the single gateway that will centralise the country’s internet connection and facilitate official control of online content in the modern fashion of North Korea or China.

At first the authorities were incensed; an early report had it that they wanted to go after each and every one of us who punched F5 that night. At which point I wonder, are you on drugs? All 100,000-plus people? Then again, that is typical of those who live with a medieval mindset and are accustomed to the incontestable use of force: when the enemy is creative, when they morph into an invisible flash mob that uses only one finger to rattle an armed government, their only response is to tighten their grip, which in turn means tightening their own twisted reality.

Then the ICT Ministry backed into defensive mode — no more chasing the F5 stormtroopers, only an incoherent and contradictory explanation that the single gateway is still “being studied” (despite the document showing it was a cabinet decision), that the system is aimed at promoting the digital economy (the business-run Telecommunications Association of Thailand loudly said they disapproved), and that the opposition misunderstood the idea of a single gateway and should read more. Misunderstood? Read more? Shall we have a contest on who can find the delete button first? It would be a coup if by some miracle the police tracked down the mastermind and found that he was a zit-faced 13-year-old with no political leanings, only angry that some old dudes would try to limit his online gaming. I would laugh my head off all the way to my server.

You may not approve of this F5 “grean” army of crazy kids — punkish disobedience that short-circuited the system that’s supposed to control them. In that case I’m sure you also disapprove of the physical sabotage at CAT Telecom proudly executed by country-loving protesters in 2013, which caused losses to real businesses (and no criminal cases).

The F5 incident is a perfect manifestation of how the world works in the 21st century. The plier-wielding mob who stormed the telecoms building were also a perfect manifestation — of the pre-Industrial Revolution 17th century when people were so afraid of the future that they thought they could use Iron Age tools to destroy it. That can also apply to the protesters at the US Embassy on Thursday, who used their rights to campaign for fewer human rights for others.

Why does no one believe the government’s explanation that the single gateway is not about controlling information? Because there’s a history of flip-flopping, of mistrust, and of the official itch to increase surveillance, as evident in the still-pending cyber security bills. The scary prognosis for all this is that since the state doesn’t know how to cope with the new century — the century where decentralised information and individual screens of personal smartphones have given rise to individuality of consciousness — they will resort to the familiar tactics of hot oil and poisoned arrows, and insist upon their version of reality that grows ever more tenuous. The world has changed, but the near-extinct will fight tooth and nail for it not to. Be prepared, the F5 warriors may have to unite again.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post columnist

Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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