Seeking Information in a Critical Situation: 2006 Thailand coup d’état

After I enjoyed having lunch with my doctoral fellows on Franklin Street, I got a note from a news reporter to contact him back about the attempted coup in Thailand. I was quite shocked because the fact that the group leader was interviewed and told that they would not do this. But they broke their words. Well I am not going to talk about what it is actually going on there politically. But I think it would be important for me to record what happen to me in terms of experience on information seeking and communication aspects. I would think we, as information professional, might learn something from this situation especially the understanding of how people cope with their information needs in a critical incident.

Instant Reaction

Instead of calling the reporter back right away, I turned on the computer and checked on a couple of Thai national newspaper website at least to verify whether his statement was true or not. However, it took a while for the pages to show up. Also they looked malfunctioned. Some of them were even offline. I guessed there would be enormous access at that period of time. So my first attempt to get the information was to answer “true” or “false”. No detail was gathered at that point.

Meanwhile, I signed on my Microsoft Live messenger (or MSN messenger). A bunch (about 10 people) of people in Thailand sent me notes right after I signed on asking me if I heard the news. The message alerts kept annoying my colleagues in the office then I decided to turn the sound off.

My friends asked me if I could watch the CNN, BBC or any international news agency whether TV or radio. They told me that all national television channels have been controlled by those who called themselves “the reform group”. They asked me if I see the tank. So I was really surprised and began panic after realizing that all Thai people cannot access other news sources except the ones controlled by the council. All international television channels were terminated. Only national televisions were running for announcements. The announcements were the only information sources they got at the moment.

A number of friends formed group chats discussing about the issues and kept updating the situations. We were sharing and verifying the news that we got. There were a lot of rumors throwing out into the group. What we all do were checking where the rumors from. For example, we got the rumor about who took control, who will be the next prime minister, the communication that would be cut off since the coup d’état group will take control of the Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT). I believe that the rumors sent from one-to-one connection rather than mass communication.

Then I decided to check out international media websites like CNN and BBC. There I could see the video and read the whole story. I tried not to get the news from any national news websites since the political turmoil, been in this country for a while, made me curious about their standing points whether they are English or Thai newspapers. Therefore, I decided to use the international agencies because they seems to be more neutral and off the issues. (Note: The political tension against Thaksin involved a lot of media engagement. A number of leaders of the mob are from media agencies.)

This was also the case when the coup happened in 1992. The only source of information at that time was BBC news radio (Thai Language). The station was based in London. People would like to know what was going on from the sources that were available and trustworthy. Since then the situation made hero, BBC news radio (Thai) became one of most favorite and reliable radio station. Unfortunately, last year BBC HQ decided to shut off the BBC Thai station due to financial constraint. There were a lot of calls to reconsider the decision from the audiences. However, they did not make it through. I wonder if today the station still operated, it would have been once again the most heroic situation for the station. Anyway, when people do not have any other choice, we had to find the way out… but how?

Among a number of instant messenger windows, there had been a rumor along the discussion that all communication channels, Internet and telephone, which mainly controlled by Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) would be shut down for a while. At the same time, a friend of mine in Chapel Hill told me that he tried to call his girlfriend in Thailand. The phone call was cut off. I felt overwhelmed by the information and was kind of worried that I would not be able to connect to my family and friends in Thailand. The only way to prove the rumor was to call my mom.

I called my mom. It worked very well. My mom did not sound panic at all. It seemed like she heard and prepared for the rumor of coup before as well as other people I read on BBC opinion section. (I supposed those are people who are against Thaksin) During the talk, the announcement was coming up. My mom put the phone near the TV set so I could hear the announcement. I hardly heard what it said but at least I felt involved in the event. She told me that she was able to call my brother and my aunt who live in Bangkok. The network was not that bad. Then I was relieved emotionally. I figured it out myself that because there would be enormous connection. That was the reason people would have fail connection. Anyway, I still needed to keep watching if all the communication channels were going to cut off as the rumor said.

Gathering Information

The phenomenon was interesting to reveal the social capitol. I was fascinated by how the groups were formed via instant messenger. Microsoft Live Messenger (or MSN Messenger) is the most popular tool among my Thai community. I got involved into two groups without asking for their permissions. They dragged me in because they wanted me to report as an “outsider”. This reminds me of Chatman’s theory of live in a round. My friends’ and family’s world at the moment were restricted. Unfortunately, I could not access any media in my office except the Internet by that time. I believe if at that time I was able to connect to other live media, I could have been one of the trustworthiest sources among my friends.

There were actually two IM groups on my desktop. One group included my friend in college whom I know and have their contacts on my list. The other group people were those whom I know from my previous work and those whom do not know but they are friends of mine now. Also I got IM messages from other individuals on my list as well including those whom I rarely talked to. I could also have merged this two group together. But I did not because I thought it might be explosion of information for all. The conversations went very fast. I could not keep track both of them. I had to decide which is the main one and then I let the other going on and read the discussion later. As we can see, this situation brought people together to perform collaborative information seeking” task.

Another source of information that I usually use to update what is going on in Thailand is the most popular and largest national online community named “pantip.com“. Not just the news from the mainstream medias, you can also get the behind-the-scene. There are a number of rooms in the webboard, including, for example, seeking relationships (Siam Square), Entertainment (Chalermthai), and Thais in oversea (Klaiban). One of the most active rooms is obviously political room (Rajdumnern). I checked the Rajdumnern room first. The room was closed (until the time I am writing this post) because they said they cannot control the post. They also asked for attention not to create politic-related posts in other rooms.

However, it is hard to control the enormous waves of thoughts. I went to Chalermthai, the entertainment room. It is hard to control people not to talk anything about their experiences, especially on how they could not get access to mainstream media, e.g. “bring CNN BBC Bloomberg back” (This post may not be stay much longer after this post). Also there have been questions regarding the temporary termination of their usual and special entertainment activities since the group declared today (September 20, Thailand Time) as a holiday for government offices and banks. Also there are a couple of posts calling for respecting the norms of not talking about the politics.

However, at the time, I looked at Chalermthai recently. There were less than 100 posts since the first post about the emergency call by Thaksin (about 10pm on September 19). I actually expected more posts though. However, since the administrator asked for cooperation, I figured that might be the reason that there were less posts than I thought. Among that posts, there were a few posts that do not related to the turmoil.

In Klaiban, Thais in oversea room, there were less than 20 discussions about the situation, at the time of writing. Again, I thought this would be a good spot for people outside to update and share their information they got. It turned out not as I expected, anyway.

Social Networking

When I looked at international mainstream media websites such as BBC and CNN. On their websites, there was options where local people could report what was going on there (e.g. CNN i-report and BBC’s Eyewitnesses: Bangkok turmoil. Although one would imagine and wonder about the filter process, they were ones of the sources that people could collaboratively build the picture about the situation. Actually there seems to be more posts saying that the situation was calm and quiet there. But most of the “identity” on that website seems to be mostly from English-speaking person which frankly I trusted less than the words from Thai people. Anyway, those words made me feel more comfortable with the situation there.

Wikipedia is one of the most updated places. There is a topic called “2006 Thailand coup d’état“. A lot of people have been active in writing the topic. The item has been evolved as time goes by. It is actually interesting that these people do not write only the encyclopedia record, but also the history of the country and the world. However, as the classic enquiry about Wikipedia, it would be nice to know who those people are….

Blog is another space where the update could be harvest. In my blogroll, I have not seen any post regarding to the situation until an hour after the announcement. There is a Thai blog called “revolution” mainly summarizing and citing the news from different mainstream sources. Also 19sep is an English blog updating news from various sources. However, There are not many other blogs I could think or link to. Therefore, I went to Technorati to check English blog. Not surprisingly, “Thailand” and “Bangkok” were among the top search terms, although the first result from “Thailand” search was Lesbian Strippers Sex Games (-_-”).

In addition to keep watching CNN on TV, I also keep refreshing Google news to see the latest news. However, I did not read every single piece. Instead I read only the headlines and the excerpts. Until I found any piece new, I then click to read more detail.

As the time I am writing this post, I keep CNN international on and updating the news to them. I still got IM from Thai folks. I hope the situation will return to normal soon.

In such a critical situation like coup d’état, the world of insider was restricted. However, accessing information is the only one way to cope with people’s stress, uncertainty, and confusion. Only a single official source did not serve those hungers of information. The Internet, especially through social networking tools, has shown its power as the major communication channel to fulfill people’s information need in this critical situation.

Note:

Is it coup d’état of 21st century?

I guess not. Just a couple of minutes ago (as the time of writing), the group leader appeared on national televisions announcing the intentions and his actions. After the announcement, there was an ads saying “This year, there will be just good stories in Thailand”. Is not it the propaganda used in the ancient time? I cannot believe it is still there.

Well overall I blame Talk Like A Pirate Day for igniting the situation. (-_-”)

6 responses to “Seeking Information in a Critical Situation: 2006 Thailand coup d’état

  1. I just want to tell the truth to others people in the World that Thai people more than 10 millions are not happy with this situation. The Military and media show tell a lie to the World but you know, now I’m crying my heart is broken. Oru democrazy is gone, we’re not independent any more in my mother land. Most Thai people are worying about our beloved the King, we’re sure that he never and ever support the coup. But we can not do anything rightnow because they have tanks gun and weapon around Bangkok and suburb.

    Shame on you Thailand.

  2. Too much sensitive to the moral issues. Many just knew that Thaksin had not paid taxes, but never realized that’s permissable under the law not even enacted by himself. Two choices of sale transactions: inside and outside the stock exchange. If selling inside stock exchange, he will get 120,000 baht but must pay 50,000 tax (120,000 – 50000= his final revenue is 70,000). If selling outside stock exchange, no revenue tax is imposed; he chose this option and sold at 70,000 baht with revenue tax free. But what a difference between his final money from the stock exchange inside transaction and the stock exchange outside transaction? He in fact gets the same amount of money irrespective of any option.

  3. This is a great commentary on the social dynamics of information and communication surrounding this crisis situation. It is interesting how new media have come into play along with some not so new–the telephone and your conversation with Mom. It is interesting to chart your decisions on how to approach moving from rumor, to contradictions/ambiguity, to some comfort that those you care about were safe and that while there were tanks and guns, they weren’t being used except as a show of power. Nice reflection!

  4. Pingback: VT massacre: Seeking Information from Outsiders « iTeau’s Dirt·

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