• Mekong Chula

Media Literacy and digital vote-canvassing network in the 2019 Election campaign in Thailand

Mukda Pratheepwatanawong:

The upcoming 2019 General Election campaign in Thailand will be another significant period of time for candidates and political parties to engage with voters about their policies and strategies to deal with various issues in Thailand. It could be said that social media had transformed the way in which traditional vote-canvassing network in Thailand used to function in Thai political culture, or what Callahan and McCargo (1996) state the literal meaning of vote-canvassers or hua khanaen as ‘head vote’ as they act practically as canvassers, vote gatherers and vote banks, establishing electoral ties of vote-canvassers, under the notion of the vote-canvasser distributing money or gifts to ensure that voters vote for the particular candidate that the vote-canvasser is working for.


Social media had established “digital vote-canvassing network” in the 2013 Bangkok Gubernatorial Election campaign. In such network, public relations personnel act as core vote-canvassers to manage and transmit campaign messages on the candidate’s Facebook page on behalf of the candidate, while the candidate’s followers are indirectly the outer layer of vote-canvassers, who play a role in interacting and spreading the candidate’s campaign message to their own networks, enabling campaign content to reach more social media users, which is the core idea of digital vote-canvassing networks (Mukda Pratheepwatanawong, 2018). Thus, as for the 2019 General Election campaign in Thailand, the use of social media during the election campaign will make another fundamental step to develop digital vote-canvassing network in Thailand.


With the freedom that voters have to choose which network they would like to receive campaign information from, or know more about the candidate and political parties, the content that voters receive from individual candidate’s and political parties’ social media page might be one-sided information as the content are selected and framed with the purpose to construct candidate’s and political parties’ image according to their core values and with the intention to persuade voters to vote for the candidate. As for certain political pages that have been set up for social media users as a public sphere for online political participation, content on those pages might constitute of fake news, which have been framed to portray certain political issues in a particular way. Thus, social media users having media literacy or being able to analyse and evaluate mediated content on social media is an important process to made a judgement on who to vote for in the 2019 General Election.


In Thailand, election campaigns used to be done in various ways, such as candidates doing door-to-door visit in different communities, residential areas or public areas, candidates speaking on mobile vans and moving around a city or province, public speaking, distribution of candidate’s brochures, displaying of candidate’s billboards. In addition, mainstream media also play an important role in reporting about candidates’ campaign that include candidate’s daily engagement with the public, their policies and results of different polls. Journalists and news anchor are also involved in facilitating and moderating discussion and public forums that are related to candidates’ campaign and policies.


However, with the emergence of social media in political communication in Thailand, politicians and political parties have been using social media as a personalised channel of communication for the purpose of public relations through the construction and management of their image as well as expressing their opinions on various issue. Social media have been a channel of political communication for Thai politicians to decide on their own agenda setting and framing of the messages that they post. As a result, politicians’ social media pages have gained continuously attention, which the content that they post on their social media pages can lead to followers commenting on the politicians’ posts or spreading the content for more social media users to reach the content. Moreover, there has also been a clear trend of linkage between the content of mainstream media and social media as both media use one another media content as part of their agenda setting, which they might further interpret of the content according to their interest. Thus, the emergence of social media in Thai political communication decentralises the production of political news and content, enabling Thai people to consume more personalised as well as more dimension and more variety of content.


With the upcoming 2019 General Election, social media have been widely used by potential candidates of the election since months before the actual election date is confirmed. With users of diverse background using social media to mediate political content on their own social media network that they established and developed, it is important for people to be aware and be critical on what they are consuming on social media, which might have a significant impact on the perception they have on particular candidate or political party, which will lead them to make decision on who to vote for in the election and who will come into power in Thai parliament.


As a researcher who have been studying the use of social media for election campaign in Thailand, people usually asked me to talk about the direct impact that social media have on the voters’ voting behavior, which I will always start by saying that it is too simplistic make a generalisation on such impact. However, what is important is that one should view social media as a tool to establish and develop digital vote-canvassing network for candidates. Regardless of their political parties, they are able to use such network to construct and manage their own image and spread such image to as many social media users as possible. Such transformation had changed the whole idea of vote-canvassing network in Thai political culture, which is an important transformation as it had changed the relationship between the candidate and voters, making voters become more engaged in the election campaign.


References

Callahan, W. A., & McCargo, D. (1996). Vote-buying in Thailand’s Northeast: the July 1995 general election. Asian Survey, 36(4), pp.376-392.

Mukda Pratheepwatanawong. (2018). “As if it was something spoken by a friend”: Digital vote-canvassing networks on Facebook during the 2013 Bangkok Gubernatorial Election Campaign. The Indonesian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 2(1), 91–118.

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