Thai PM's enhanced Facebook usage could backfire

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - After being in office for nearly two years, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has recently turned to Facebook to express her mind on topics she does not want to talk directly to the media about.

Unlike her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was outspoken and liked to exchange criticisms publicly with his critics and opponents, Yingluck rarely talks about serious political issues. She has sometimes just walked away when reporters tried to corner her for comments.

But the prime minister surprised the public when she gave a speech in Mongolia and spoke her mind out about hot political issues in Thailand.

Since then, Yingluck has been using her Facebook page to speak her mind. She has also posted messages on her Facebook timeline to try to clear away doubts on certain hot issues.

Thai politicians and celebrities often use Facebook as a channel for delivering their messages. There have been several occasions when reporters have cited messages on the Facebook timeline of leading politicians and celebrities.

But these politicians or celebrities rarely follow up their Facebook messages. They just post them to start new topics without returning to answer questions posted in the comments field.

Two people very close to Yingluck have been using this tactic. They are Thaksin and his son, Pantongtae Shinawatra.

Thaksin has recently stepped up the use of his Facebook wall to express his thoughts again after becoming quiet after the great flood of 2011. At that time, he stopped posting on Facebook apparently because he did not want to steal the show from his sister.

Now, he has been posting messages on the political situation again, and his Facebook messages always have an impact on Thai politics.

Meanwhile, Yingluck's nephew Pantongtae has been using his Facebook wall to defend his aunt on all the major issues. It should be noted that he rarely gives interviews to reporters. He often starts new topics on Facebook, leading to questions of whether he really wrote the messages himself.

So, father and son have been using Facebook as their mouthpieces to retaliate against the government's opponents in cyberspace on behalf of the prime minister.

But this has led to concern among Yingluck's aides as to whether these Facebook messages could become a double-edged sword. This is because Thaksin and Pantongtae are very close to Yingluck and if they make blunders in their Facebook messages, it could be difficult for her to distance herself from them. She could not claim that the messages are personal issues of Thaksin and her nephew because any message disseminated in cyberspace would automatically be regarded as a public issue.

It would be hard for Yingluck to come up with an explanation to control the damage caused by the Facebook messages posted by her brother or nephew. And she would face a similar difficult situation if she made a blunder through her own Facebook posts.

These risks exist because sometimes written messages can be misunderstood by people who have different backgrounds and different levels of understanding. Sometimes, the writer may want to communicate one thing but society gets another message.

If that happens, the use of Facebook as a channel to communicate with the public may harm the prime minister more than benefiting her. And the political situation may worsen instead of improving.

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