“Catch Me If You Can!”
How Thai Flash Mobs Avoid Capture -Jun 1, 2014
Thais massing at spontaneous protests to show disapproval of the recent military coup are using social media to organize gatherings and employing high-tech methods to communicate and avoid capture.
“I came here because Sombat posted on Facebook calling for a flash mob,” a protester said at a rally Sunday, referring to veteran activist Sombat Boonngamanong. Mr. Sombat has refused to answer an army summons, organizing protests online and teasing authorities with a message on his widely read Facebook page to “Catch Me If You Can!”
“I access Sombat’s page through the Tor browser,” the protester said, referring to a free service that helps makes web surfing anonymous. Tor Project Inc., a 12-year-old Walpole, Mass.-based nonprofit, provides software to access a volunteer network of users whose computers help reroute and conceal Internet traffic. It was created in part to hide the online activity of dissidents in countries such as Iran and China that censor the Internet.
The man, who identified himself only as a 30-year-old student, noted that he believes the military is monitoring Mr. Sombat’s page and that he wants to avoid detection.
“In a few hours, everyone will disperse, then maybe next weekend we will have another gathering,” he said.
The demonstrator said he follows Mr. Sombat’s Twitter feed, where the activist frequently interacts with his more than 66,000 followers, retweeting images from protests and encouraging demonstrators to keep up the fight.
Other protesters say they communicate with one another via smartphone messaging apps like Line, which allow users to send texts, images and video to one another for free. Line, which was created in Japan in 2011 by a unit of South Korean Internet firm Naver Corp., has an estimated 175 million monthly active users globally. It is Thailand’s most popular messaging app, with users especially fond of Line’s virtual stickers—cartoon images that can be sent as messages.
Such apps also allow group chats so that many users can communicate with one another in a private group. The military has banned physical gatherings of more than five people.
Last Thursday, when a cabinet minister from the ousted government made a surprise visit to Thailand’s foreign press club to discuss his refusal to report to the army, coup opponents communicated with fellow protesters about the event via Line. One received an alert from someone outside saying troops were about to enter the building. Demonstrators got their cameras ready to snap photos of the official’s arrest. Many were circulated widely on social media.
The army has forbidden social-media activity that criticizes the junta, and many users blamed a widespread Facebook outage Wednesday on the army, though the junta denied it was behind the interruption.
“If they are really desperate maybe they will try to block it” again, said the demonstrator Sunday.
Photo: Thai protesters demonstrated during an anticoup rally at a shopping mall in Bangkok on Sunday. European Pressphoto Agency
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