No place for trolls, mobs

The nation is officially in mourning, and 65 million Thais are coming to grips with the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It’s a difficult process — and more difficult for some than others. Yet a small number of self-appointed Thais, on the street but particularly online, seem to feel empowered as offensive and confrontational types; for lack of a better phrase, “mourning police”. They are not needed nor wanted and their rudeness is unpleasant in the current mood of the nation.

Reports from too many points around the country and online confirm the presence of impolite busy-bodies. For reasons that are unclear, certain people have the audacity to believe there is exactly one way to mourn the late king.

These people have designated themselves to show others the one, proper way to dress and the one, proper way to conduct oneself during this terribly sad aftermath of the passing of only king most of us have known.

Online, such people are generally despised as cyber-snipers and trolls. In actual Facebook and social media posts seen over the weekend, they posted photos of fellow Thais who — in their smug and superior opinion — were mourning “incorrectly”.

As a result, solid citizens suddenly saw themselves pictured online as somehow offending the mourning period. In truth, all they offended were the supercilious and rather hateful people who posted or commented on the photos.

The top offence, if we read those trolls’ arrogant remarks correctly, was not dressing up to the posters’ standards. Yes, people in mourning often dress as recommended, in black or white. But people in mourning sometimes don’t have black or white clothing immediately available.

People in mourning sometimes find shops sold out of black and white garments. And people mourning the passing of King Bhumibol sometimes do not have the money to buy new clothing.

A tale carried in the news columns of this newspaper told of a man in an orange shirt. He was singled out by the nasty trolls, who posted his photo online. Horrible comments criticised his shirt colour. A cyber commenter sneered that such a man had no heart.

In truth, at the same time the self-appointed shame brigade of Facebook were posting photos and rude, privacy-invading comments, the man in the orange shirt had spent his time attending a formal ceremony in remembrance of His Majesty.

To paraphrase Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, such criticism is over the top. Facebook trolls, always on the look-out for a fellow Thai to sneer at and feel superior, need to give it a rest. Telling random people how to mourn is inappropriate. The trolls have no idea how their targets are dealing with the sad news that beloved King Bhumibol will no longer guide us.

Similarly unwanted and unneeded, especially now, are the “lese majeste mobs”. Three times in three days, extremely large and volatile crowds have gathered at three places in the South.

Mob leaders claimed to have discovered Facebook and social media posts critical of the monarchy. Crowds demanded “justice” under the Criminal Code’s lese majeste laws.

Mobs have no place in justice, no matter what the alleged offence. Police and military units have the responsibility to take and investigate complaints of crimes, including lese majeste. But no law officer should be discussing procedures, let alone negotiating with a mob.

This is a sad and unique time that almost no living Thais have had to deal with before. Citizens have the duty to help and support each other, not to criticise and treat fellow Thais with contempt.

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