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Abhisit warns: social media is all-powerful but has a downside

SOCIAL MEDIA will become a new battleground during the build-up to the next election as it has the power to direct political agendas and mobilise supporters.

However, it is a double-edged sword as it reaches people fast and can arouse their emotions, rather than critical thinking, a seminar on social media and politics was told yesterday.

The seminar, Social Media and Changes of Thai politics, organised by Isra Institute’s media executive class, saw notable political experts and Democratic party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva exchange views on the power of social media in shaping Thai politics.

Abhisit said the role of social media could be observed both now, when no election is not yet in sight, and in the lead-up to February next year, when the election is expected to be held.

He said he expected social media to play a greater role in shaping people’s thinking as the election neared, because politics was about the battle between different schools of thought.

By the time of the election there will be around five or six million new voters and the social media they have grown up with would become the new battleground for campaigning, said the former PM.

Among the participants in this contest will be new technology such as Facebook Live, and politicians will need to think hard which tools they should adopt in order to best reach voters.

Abhisit said those using social media should nevertheless be careful because content disseminated online would reach people too fast to be screened properly.

Atukkit Sawangsuk, a noted columnist, agreed with Abhisit, saying social media was powerful but lacked systematic processes to help control contents. Political messages delivered through social media at present were scattered and lacked direction, he said, prompting emotions to be aroused rather than people’s intellects.

This, he said, was dangerous as issues and solutions would be driven by emotion rather than facts, and authoritarianism would be sought more and more to quickly end issues of the day.

However, when social media is used to keep political office holders and high-profile personalities in check that is when it is at its most useful, they agreed.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law expert and vice rector of Thammasat University, said social media had provided equal access and freedom for people to communicate. Everyday people can suddenly have equal power, he said, citing the case of the CSI LA Facebook Page, which exposed the luxury watches seen on Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s wrist on various occasions.

Prinya also noted that social media could be used to help shape policies that people wished to see.

It’s what he called a smart democracy, having only a mobile phone to introduce their political wills and needs, he said.

The Nation 

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