Information Warfare: The Generals Get Schooled

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June 18, 2014: On May 22nd the Thailand military staged another coup, their 12th since a constitutional form of government replaced an absolute monarchy in the 1930s. The last such coup was in 2006 and this time it was different. Since 2006 social networking sites like Facebook have become enormously popular in Thailand, where most Internet users have a Facebook account and use it heavily. Thus the military was not able to disrupt street demonstrations and opposition in general just by taking control of the traditional mass media. At first the military thought they could solve the Facebook problem by simply blocking Facebook access in Thailand. The generals were quickly informed that most of the troops and supporters of the military were heavy Facebook users and would not tolerate a shutdown. The military had this confirmed when they did block Facebook on May 28th and the adverse feedback was so immediate and personal (senior generals got complaints from family and friends) that Facebook was back on in Thailand less than an hour after the shutdown.

The generals then came up with another idea, one that would take more time. The generals ordered that a new Facebook, just for Thailand, be created. The military Internet experts tried to explain that this would be “difficult” but were overruled and given several months and a lot of money to accomplish the task. Anyone with knowledge of how Internet software is developed and actually works understands this request is absurd and it has been tried before without much success. The generals were thinking of the Chinese bans without understanding that China is a different country and it really didn’t work as the Chinese leaders expected. While the Chinese ban kept Facebook out before a lot of Chinese became addicted, many Chinese still created troublesome social networking capabilities inside China despite all the government censorship.

Meanwhile Facebook wasn’t the only new Information War problem the generals were confronted with. Another was the availability of more highly effective propaganda tools for their opponents, thanks to the Internet in general. For example, the opposition (the majority of Thais) quickly began using new, and highly effective, symbols. One was the three finger salute used by rebels in the “Hunger Games” movies. These films were enormously popular in Thailand and the three finger salute quickly became a widespread, and annoying to the generals, symbol of resistance.

 

 


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