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User-generated media opens new digital watchdog battlegrounds

Increasing uses of user-generated media is opening a battleground between governments and citizen groups to contest information, authority, and political messaging.

Prof Ubonrat Siriyuvasak writes,

“2009 [NECTEC] survey also revealed a new trend- a sudden jump in the richness of news and information content on websites, but also an explosion of user-generated content on web boards, blogs and micro-blogs such as Twitter, SMS and social networking sites, notably Facebook. These activities have also gone mobile in a big way, with smart phone use surging across the region.”

"Independent online news, satellite television and local cable services are mushrooming, offering alternatives to traditional mainstream press and broadcasting channels. Community radio networks also play an increasing role, often playing a cat-and mouse game with government as they test the limits of media freedom by broadcasting via the Internet."

Poomjit Sirawongprasert writes of a specific example of new political maneuverability enabled by user-generated digital media.

“In Thailand, political cyber-wars have become a reality since the military coup in 2006. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), established as a political movement to oppose the coup, established a complex network of ‘cyber-demonstrations’ spanning web forums, email list or listservs, chat rooms, community radio and satellite TV channels. Live internet streaming broadcasts of political protests could be archived and shared ubiquitously. Attempts to block and ban these sites were simply answered by shifting to peer to peer (P2P) networks to disseminate these files."

Implications

In empowering individuals to instantly ‘publish’ to the world, digital media has created a new battlefront as citizens enthusiastically exercise their rights to information and freedom of expression. But with individual citizens increasingly playing the role of public watchdog using the new free media, governments are subject to unprecedented scrutiny and uncensored critique, and many have moved to block or ban uncontrolled political activity. The ensuing cat-and-mouse games will remain a feature of bottom-up politics in the region.

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Sources:

Noviscape, Sept 2010, page 6, 12: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/Noviscape_Sept2010.pdf#page=6

Asia Media Report: A Crisis Within. Bangkok: Inter-Press Service
Asia-Pacific.

Castells, M. (1997) “Informational politics and the crisis of democracy”
in The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture
– Volume II The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kularb, P. (2007) “Communicating to the mass on cyberspace:
Freedom of expression and content regulation on the Internet”
in Chavarong Limpattamapanee and Srnaud Leveau (eds)
State and Media in Thailand During Political Transition, Bangkok:
IRASEC.

McCargo, D. (2009) “Thai politics as reality TV”, Journal of
Asian Studies. 68:1, February 2009, pp. 7–19.

NECTEC (2008) Internet User Profile of Thailand 2008, Bangkok.

NECTEC (2009) Internet User Profile of Thailand 2009, Bangkok.