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When virtual reality starts to overlap real life

Publication Date : 27-08-2014


An American student from Harvard University said recently he was surprised by how quickly the anti-coup protests in the early days of junta rule dissipated - and wanted an explanation for this.

I responded that other than the obvious crackdowns on street protesters, many people seem to be content with expressing their anger against junta-leader-turned-PM General Prayuth Chan-ocha on social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.

But, confining anti-coup sentiment almost exclusively to the public sphere of social media has its strengths and weaknesses.

The strength is that though the streets of Bangkok appear to be normal and bereft of any political dissent, the reality in the online sphere shows that there's no consensus on politics, no matter what opinion polls say.

Since social-media networks in Thailand are still largely free, many anti-coup Netizens are able to network, exchange views and provide one another with moral support in the wake of the power seizure and the country being put under the control of the National Council for Peace and Order.

The weakness of confining anti-coup sentiment almost exclusively to social media is that people might be tempted to settle and accept this freedom as a substitute for liberty in other areas that matter.

The risk of people compartmentalising their lives and thoughts is real, as some may be satisfied with venting their anger against Prayuth on Facebook and Twitter, as they are too "exhausted" to take their action to the streets.

Plus, this online pressure valve also benefits the junta, as it gives them a chance to snoop on dissenters' views and activities. (I'm being followed on Twitter by at least one Army colonel and have decided to "make friends" with another on Facebook for the sake of transparency and good intention.)

So, will limiting one's critical views to the Internet become a substitute for reality? Much like playing dangerous games on computers helps some people make up for their boring lives?

Perhaps the answer to this differs from one person to another.

When asked on Facebook about the strengths and weaknesses about limiting anti-coup views almost exclusively on social media, more than 70 of my Facebook friends and followers responded, and their answers can be put in different categories.

One group said they thought it was too risky to take their dissent to the streets as they've seen their friends being dragged away, summoned, detained or even charged and they do not fancy this happening to them.

Then there's the group that wants to wait until the time is right or when a clear leader emerges, while another group says they are disillusioned by the Shinawatra siblings (Thaksin and Yingluck) as well as red-shirt leaders and no longer want to risk their lives for these people again.

Yet, there are a few who insist that virtual reality is part of reality and that preparations for overthrowing a dictatorial regime are being made, even though they're confined to social media for now.


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