Bangkok blasts: netizens emerge as heroes in aftermath of bombing
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.