The manipulation of #weloveking on Twitter and the reflection of reality
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The manipulation of #weloveking on Twitter and the reflection of reality

By Thaweeporn Kummetha (Guest Contributor)

December 5 was the birthday of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It is a very big day in the kingdom. This can be seen by how the Thai government held a grand festival and celebration on Chao Phraya River from the evening of the fifth and also a celebration for nine days and nine nights.

The Nation has a report about event on the evening at Chao Phraya River here and below is from the Bangkok Post.

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1. What happened on Twitter on the King’s birthday?

With the collaboration of many Thai tweeters, #weloveking could make it to the top of the Thai twitter trend, while#hismajesty was instantly placed on the world’s trending topics on the night of December 5 (Bangkok time).

Fellow AC blogger Jon Russell had an analysis on this in his blog here and also here.

As Russell pointed out, there were two hashtags used to praise the King on that night.

The first hashtag, #weloveking, had been tweeted by Twitter users as early the midnight of December 4. It gained popularity throughout the day and especially during the live broadcast of the celebration held at Chao Phraya River, but it could not make its way on the world’s trend. On the other hand #hismajesty, of which popularity reached its sudden peak at around 10pm Bangkok time, went on the world’s trend.

This is what Russell said:

The explosive growth of #hismajesty mirrors the type of viral, predominantly news-driven breaking content which Twitter seeks to promote most with its trends feature. The company recently tweaked its settings to encourage explosively trending topics – and the type of content that has been broken on the service such as the Hudson plane crash – rather than group type discussions, typified by talk of US popstar Justin Bieber.

So to Twitter, #weloveking looked more like a group discussion, #hismajesty looked like urgent news that broke to Twitter timeline. #hismajesty, therefore, appeared on the world’s trend.

Russell also left a question in his first blog: “The only question remaining is why the hashtag changed during the King’s birthday?” I will answer this question in the next section of this article: What really happened on the evening of December 5?

One observation to be noted: while there is royalist-sentiment spreading all over twitter with #weloveking being tweeted continuously, #weloveburgerking, which was created as a satirical tag to #weloveking and was also used in last year’s celebration, and also emerged as a top 10 Thai trending topic. It shows that the satirical tag also gained a level of popularity.

2. So what really happened on Twitter that day?

What really happened is that a group of Thais, led by some Thai ‘celebs’ on Twitter, especially Suthichai Yoon (@suthichai), were trying extremely hard to put the tag about the King on the world’s trend.

Suthichai Yoon, for example, asked his followers to tweet to him with a message praising the King, showing their neighborhood, and to tag the hashtag #weloveking.

Even though #weloveking has been already placed on top of Thai trending all day, this had not yet reached their satisfaction. They were anxious why #weloveking had not yet reach the world’s trend.

At around 9pm, fearing that his effort would be in vain, Jetrin Wattanasin (@jjetrin), a former popular Thai singer,tweeted:

“Anyone who is good at English please contact twitter center. Tell them that #weloveking is not spam”

Later Jetrin and some others told their followers to change the tag from #weloveking to #hismajesty. And here we go again. They tried to make it on the world’s trending.

Jetrin, who has about 60,000 followers, also wrote about 20 tweets asking his followers to retweet his message with the tag #hismajesty and #weloveking.

Suthichai Yoon then tweeted:

“Let’s the world know that we’re not spam. We tweet from our heart for our majestic king #hismajesty”

Interestingly, unlike Thanong Kanthong, managing editor of The Nation, who is renowned for his explicit loyalty to HM, Suthichai Yoon, editor in chief of The Nation and a major shareholder of the newspaper, as I could recall, has never demonstrated his explicit loyalty through his articles or his TV programs. But on this year’s celebration, Yoon seemed to have become a die-hard royalist, devoting his time the whole night to manipulate the trend.

This is also another interesting example showing how Thais manipulated this trend.

“17000 tweets of #weloveking and 4000 tweets of #hismajesty. Let’s make them reach the same number.”

I also found a large number of tweets with #hismajesty where its contents are not related to HM at all. They just added the tag and tweeted on some topics else so that the tag would reach the world’s trend.

3. The creation of positive discourses and the extreme ultra-royalist sentiments

Apart from the hashtag phenomena that a group of Thais tried frantically to make them on the world’s trend, another interesting thing to see is the attempt to generalize and create positive discourses about how many Thais love the King, how much Thais love the King and how great HM is.

As #hismajesty began to appear on the world’s trend, I began to see some tweets by foreigners questioning or making critical comments related to the tag.

Yoon may see this kind of tweets too. He then tweeted in Thai:

“Foreigners may not understand that [all] Thais really have only one father…#hismajesty”

Chavarong Limpathapani, a board member of the Thai Journalist Association and a senior editor at Thai Rath,tweeted:

“A king is a god-king. But our King is more than that. #weloveking”

Other interesting tweets include:

“When it comes to kings, no other kingdom even comes close to Thailand. #weloveking”

“Our king is far greater than a king. He’s also a father of all Thais. Long live His Majesty the King! #HisMajesty”

“We’re not ashamed to be regarded as spam as we tweeted from our heart #hismajesty #weloveking”

“The King has more than 70 million followers without a single twitter account #weloveking”

Please note that the population of Thailand is around 64 million people (as of January 2010).

There are some more examples of overstated tweets, but I decided not to publish it here as it could be deemed as violating lese majeste charge.

Also on that night, the ultra-royalists sentiments are evident on twitter. Examples:

“Go to hell! Anti-monarchists!”

A person whom I never talked to on twitter replied to my question on why people are trying so hard in manipulating the trend: “You don’t understand our loyalty. You’re not us. You don’t belong here. Get outta here!”

Frankly, I felt very threatened as if I was almost to be witch-hunted – for just asking a question.

4. How the mainstream media reported about the #weloveking and #hismajesty phenomena

Thai Rath online, a news website of Thailand’s most circulated Thai-language newspaper, has a ‘surreal’ report about the phenomenon.

HEADLINE: [All] Thais love the King. #hismajesty makes it to no.1 in the world’s trending topic.

Reporters reported that all Thais who use twitter paid respect to the King on his birthday on 5 December by tweeting the tag #weloveking. The act is to show to the world how all Thais love the revered monarch and also to show their loyalty to the throne. The tag #weloveking reached the top of world’s trending topic at 8.29pm. This shows how Thai Internet users came together for HM.

It is also reported that [someone] also invited Thais in the provinces and abroad to show their loyalty by tweeting the hashtag #weloveking and identifying their neighborhood that they belonged to. However, #weloveking was eventually banned by twitter as the system thought it was a spam. Moreover, the system misunderstood that Thais actually wanted to tweet the tag #weloveburgerking instead of #weloveking, so the system understood that #weloveking was a spam and banned it.

However, the Thai tweeters did not give up in displaying their love for the King. They decided to change #weloveking to #hismajesty. Eventually at 10.11 p.m., the new tag could make it to the no.1 of the world’s trending topic which was accounted for 0.75 per cent of all tweets in the world. This showed how Thais tried to demonstrate their love for the King — without any obligation or being paid to manipulate the trend.

This sounds surreal, doesn’t it? This really is what the widest circulated newspaper reported on that day.

Apart from the annoying repetition of the phrase, ‘all Thais’ and ‘show their love/loyalty for the King’, obviously, there are three main mistakes in this report.

1. #weloveking never appeared on the world’s trending topic this year at all.

2. The hashtag #weloveburgerking had nothing to do with the fact that #weloveking did not appear on the world’s trend.

3. Twitter did not mistake #weloveking as spam.

And “someone” which Thai Rath left out is Suthichai Yoon as I described earlier.

Regarding The Nation of Nation Multimedia Group, of which its editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon @suthichai encouraged his employees to be addicted to twitter, reported about the phenomenon on December 6 that :

Thailand’s social media networks virtually dropped everything they were doing yesterday to commemorate His Majesty the King’s birthday anniversary, sending a “#weloveking” hashtag rising to number one of the nation’s twitter trending topic.

Facebook updates were devoted largely to photos, videos and comments honouring His Majesty, as every King- related tweet was retweeted virally.

“Today makes me fall in love with Thailand again,” one twitterer posted, saying the outpouring of love for the King touched her heart.

Numerous tweets talked about the pride of being born a Thai under this monarch. The Nation’s editor in chief, @suthichai, received tweets from Thais around the country and the world conveying their reverence to His Majesty.

Action on the social networks peaked in the evening during the Chao Phya River celebrations and candlelit events across the country and beyond. It sent twitter timelines flowing nonstop as everything else seemed to come to a pause. #weloveking rocketed to top Thailand’s trending topic with more than 170,000 tweets as of 9 pm.

Also on December 6, Kom Chud Luek program on the Nation Channel, a news channel of Nation Multimedia Group – yes, under Suthichai Yoon again – has a talk show entitled “Online united loyalty for the king.” It invited four Thai ‘celebs’ on twitter to talk about how they manipulated the trend that night, and what is the ‘right technique’ so that next year those right techniques could be used in manipulating the trend again.

Throughout the whole program, program host Jomquan Laohapetch @jomquan, did not mention about #weloveburgerking at all. What’s more, she did not ask any critical question — whether manipulating the trend to ‘display love’ for someone may be regarded as a breach of netiquette by some Twitter users. The whole program only focused on “what should we do to put the tag on the world’s trending again next year?”

5. How the hashtag phenomenon reflects reality or, more precisely, the sick society?

According to Russell, there were 42,672 #weloveking tweets coming from 12,359 twitter accounts or roughly 3.5 tweets per one account.

There are 18,127 #hismajesty tweets coming from 6,307 accounts. Therefore one account tweeted #hismajesty for 2.9 times.

Russell also pointed out that not as many Thai tweeters tweet the tags about the king as he has speculated.

That said. I am surprised that little over 12,000 active Twitter users tweeted the hashtags. Either the engagement levels were low on Twitter or perhaps the users’ numbers are lower than have been speculated over the last year?

As you can see, these Thais tried so hard to tell the world how great the king is and how much the Thais love their king.

The question is why they had to try this hard? What is the goal for that? Is it really for ‘showing their loyalty and love for the king’?

Let me show you some figures.

Last Wednesday, iLaw has just released “Situational Report on Control and Censorship of Online Media, through the Use of Laws and the Imposition of Thai State Policies. The research shows that in 2010, there are 38,868 URLsbeing blocked by court orders for having content deemed lese majeste.

Also earlier, Nirmal Gosh, a Straits Times journalist, interviewed two anti-government red-shirt leaders who are now hiding.

According to Nirmal Gosh’s report, the two leaders said:

Up to 90 percent of the red shirts may now be anti-monarchy.

I believe that these figures are not that shocking for most Thais. Most Thais do understand that there are anti-monarchy elements in Thailand. Such sentiments have been portrayed by the government and Thai mainstream media as evil since the 2006 military coup.

So to me, the #weloveking and #hismajesty phenomenon does not reflect the loyalty of the Thais, but the problem of the society – a society that could openly discuss every matter related to political conflict, minus the monarchy.

Thailand has a draconian lese majeste law, which has a jail term of up to 15 years. At this crucial point in Thai politics, more and more people have been charged with lese majeste. Some were charged just for not demonstrating their love for the king. And those who criticize or call for the reform of the draconian law per se tended to be regarded as anti-monarchist themselves and may be charged with lese majeste.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a respected Thai journalist, once said in The Economist:

Lese Majeste law creates a distorting effect on open and frank discussion about Thai society and politics as it prevents many Thais to speak their minds openly.

Thailand is like a sick man who cannot discuss his own medical condition fully and openly. Like a patient needing a surgery but dares not undergo medical diagnosis and discuss the treatment required, he waits bitterly, grudgingly and confounded as the pain mounts and the situation becomes increasing untenable.

So while the Thai mainstream media kept reporting that “all Thais love the King,” those royalists on Twitter tried so hard to shout “We love the King” to the world as if they have an inferiority complex about ‘the fact’ they know. And that pressures them to try harder and harder – even if it means having to repeatedly overstate or distort the fact repeatedly.

In summary, this probably indicates that when the royalists try hard to shout “We love the King” to the world, it in a way reflects that these royalists know that there is a growing anti-monarchy sentiment in Thailand.

Thaweeporn Kummetha is a young Thai journalist based in Bangkok. She is a staunch campaigner for freedom of expression. She can be found on twitter @isAMare