Recently, I attended a webinar on contemporary Thai politics and social media.
One interesting finding was that Twitter has become a political tool and conduit used to propagate state agendas and to counter the narratives produced by those opposing the state.
Information in contemporary society is highly mobile, fast-paced and easily accessible anytime, anywhere. However, the information made available is selective, filtered and processed.
The concern is not so much about the construction of different discourses, ranging from far right or far left. The issue here is the hegemonic practices in the imposition and channelling of such information.
In theory, different narratives of political ideologies, religious beliefs, gender preferences and class status should be made available on equal terms. The relationship between democracy and social media is about equality.
Democracy is the platform for debate and dialogue with no suppression. Dr Sun Yat Sen once said that political ideas should be put forward in the public sphere so that, with open dialogue and debate, we are not blanketed by ignorance and suppression of ideas and voices.
In this IT era, people with various intentions and motives disseminate vast amounts of information over the internet. This information could be about political ideas and slogans and business agendas. Or it could be the construction of social categories and stigma over Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
In an interview with NHK, Rappler CEO and investigative journalist Maria Ressa, the winner of 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, asserts:
…you can protect democracy is to speak (up). Silent is complicity. If you see something being done that is wrong, right in front of you, in your area of influence, you should speak, prevent it. If each one of us prevents the wrong from happening in our area of influence, then we stitch them all together, that is what makes democracy work.
Knowing that information is fluid and may bring about discrimination in society, we must speak up within our areas of influence.
We must practice speaking up, sharing information within our own capability to help shape great ideas, (re)excavate history and promote positive social values and lift morale.
Such information could include day-to-day health information, family values, personal hobbies (eg cooking and drawing), messages of encouragement, stories that inspire, alternative historical events, political ideas and a deeper exploration of world events to broaden our perspectives.
On a personal level, we have used social media platforms to share information outside our professional work and to spark debate and dialogue in the public sphere.
We seek to broaden democratic space, unhindered by suppression and ignorance – a public domain that is conscious, caring and guided by conscience.
In setting broad parameters, we also trigger the process of selection and filtering, but the difference is we expose ideas and shape knowledge in the public sphere, minus hegemonic and authoritarian practices.
The reality is that information will always be out there to be read, to be absorbed. We have no control over it. Neither can we, ordinary people, suspend the hegemony.
But we can cultivate the democratic space in the public sphere through social media. We can practise and exercise our capability in innovation and discovery to enrich the greatest of inspiring stories in the virtual world.
In this way, we can build a society that treasures respect and intelligence and has the wisdom to differentiate and analyse, to select and filter ‘good’ information from the ‘bad. This is a democratic formula minus the hegemonic influence.
Soon Chuan Yean, an Aliran member, is a lecturer at a local university. Josephine Goh is currently studying the K-pop media industry at a local university