Bangkok blasts: ne­ti­zens emerge as he­roes in af­ter­math of bomb­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Amid na­tion­wide grief over Mon­day’s deadly bomb­ing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, a slo­gan of sol­i­dar­ity among Thais has emerged. “Stronger To­gether” is now echo­ing across so­cial media, af­ter it ap­peared on a ban­ner at the can­dlelit vigil held at the shrine a day af­ter the at­tack. You could be for­given for as­sum­ing that Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha was be­hind the slo­gan’s pro­lif­er­a­tion. Dur­ing his na­tional TV ad­dress on Tues­day, he called for all Thais to unite dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time. In fact, the com­fort­ing mes­sage first ap­peared on the so­cial media shortly af­ter news of the bomb at­tack broke.

The premier has once again asked for co­op­er­a­tion from the media and In­ter­net users. This time his plea against the spread­ing of ru­mor and im­ages of the at­tack has met with a re­sponse free of bit­ter­ness. It seems that de­sire for unity now dom­i­nates the public mood. In­creas­ingly pow­er­ful so­cial media is also play­ing a ma­jor role in con­vey­ing con­do­lences to, and mo­bi­liz­ing aid for, the fam­i­lies of those killed and in­jured in the at­tack.

How­ever, online net­works also have an ugly side and it has been on dis­play in the af­ter­math of Bangkok’s dead­li­est bomb­ing.

Smart­phones and other mo­bile gad­gets now give all of us the power to be “re­porters,” but few are held to ac­count in any mean­ing­ful way for what they spread or share. In the wake of the Ratchapra­song blast, false re­ports have flown thick and fast. One prom­i­nent ex­am­ple was the tweet that claimed all gov­ern­ment of­fices, schools and com­mer­cial banks were to be closed af­ter the at­tack. The mes­sage claimed to be quot­ing a JS 100 ra­dio re­port, and Twit­ter users shared it with­out a sec­ond thought, il­lus­trat­ing how dan­ger­ous the so­cial-media bom­bard- ment can be in the wake of a se­ri­ous in­ci­dent.

Apart from spread­ing false ru­mors, the so­cial media has also been abused to share graphic and dis­turb­ing photos of the at­tack’s vic­tims. De­spite calls from fel­low Ne­ti­zens to halt the prac­tice, the photos are still be­ing shared. Such thought­less­ness re­flects im­ma­tu­rity, ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity and a grave in­sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

Per­haps even more dis­turb­ing are those who have been quick to point fig­ures at the other side of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide, ex­ploit­ing the at­tack to in­flame an al­ready heated na­tional con­flict.

As the power of the so­cial media grows, so does its po­ten­tial to cause harm - es­pe­cially at times of na­tional cri­sis.

The les­son we can take from the past few days is to care­fully ver­ify each piece of in­for­ma­tion be­fore we press “share.”

The Thai Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion has is­sued a state­ment ad­vis­ing news out­lets to vet in­for­ma­tion be­fore re­port­ing and re­frain from pub­lish­ing graphic im­ages. Like­wise, the Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der has re­peat­edly urged the media to re­port in a “con­struc­tive” man­ner.

How­ever, change for the bet­ter will not come from the top. Each of us must bear the added re­spon­si­bil­ity of the power of in­for­ma­tion that the dig­i­tal age af­fords us. One pos­i­tive sign is that many ne­ti­zens are now con­demn­ing those who spread false in­for­ma­tion and call­ing for a code of con­duct. The cam­paign for con­struc­tive use of the so­cial media is gain­ing a mo­men­tum, aided by lessons from the Bangkok blast. We have good rea­son to hope that when we next face a ma­jor cri­sis, the beau­ti­ful side of so­cial media will out­shine its po­ten­tial for harm. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Na­tion on Aug. 20.

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