Let us look at fake news in Thailand as well as the risks, causes, and consequences.
Fake news is about deliberately creating false information and/or misleading information through social media to achieve specific goals. There are three specific goals that those who spread fake news hope to achieve: money, misinformation, and mischief.
Fake news is created about almost everything in Thailand. The ASEAN country is widely known for scamming tourists and its own citizens. In fact, one could almost say that Thailand invented fake news. However, how is fake news related to business and what are the risks, causes, and consequences? Fake news is related to the marketing aspect of fake businesses and online scams. Digital and online scams are critical to the online survival of fake businesses. These include fake products, fake information about products (and services), and their imaginary benefits.
A new set of businesses has emerged as a result of the Wuhan Virus. Some people prefer to call it COVID19 but as a political scientist, I have always called a spade, a spade. These businesses include herbal remedies, chanting priests, exotic elixirs, and of course, face masks that guarantee to keep you Wuhan Virus free. The vendors create false and misleading news on their business Web sites to promote these fake remedies. Fake remedies by fake news for fake cures. Already estimated to be worth several hundred million baht, both locals and tourists alike have fallen victims to these online and digital scams.
The Wuhan Viral pandemic has resulted in major business losses for Thailand. One of the biggest losers is Thai Airways and the other is Airports of Thailand (AOT). The national airline has been in a decade’s long deficit since the infamous Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt protests. The sit-in at Suvarnabhumi International Airport during the protests had three main consequences: firstly, that it was still acceptable for protestors to occupy government and national buildings (a “tradition that evolved from the many military coups since 1932”); secondly, that it was alright to protest for one’s rights even if it made everyone else poorer; and thirdly, the rich people in Thailand will always be rich and so it is important to remind them that the poor outnumber them by a ration of 10 to one. This means that out of the national population of 68 million people, about 67.4 million people live on less than USD25 a day. Therefore, it is not surprising that Thai people will make use of any kind of means to promote their businesses because of the three great uncertainties in the Thai business climate.
The first uncertainty is environmental disasters such as flash floods, wild animals eating people in Bangkok, and tsunamis in the South. For all these disasters, there are traditional and homemade remedies. These include the anti-crocodile kit for the raining season (about 500 baht), the inflatable boat with pump for flash floods, and the tinned vegetables in fish sauce survival kit. The kit comes with two packets of Thai fragrant rice.
The second uncertainly is military coups as well as changes in the Constitution. However, since the Constitution is often by-passed by the government (as in some other ASEAN countries) or changed to suit the military junta (also, as in some other ASEAN countries), we shall not discuss that. You can write to me to ask for an article that I wrote on the 20 Thai Constitutions. Military coups in Thailand are so common that the Thai baht seems hardly affected by these bloody or bloodless coups. There are business that make use of these coups to enable people to survive them such as the offline gold investment scam, the golden rice scam, and the online religious online temple scam. All these are supported by various kinds of fake news and fake news’ distribution and marketing.
The third uncertainty is terrorism. Thailand has lost over 5,500 people to terrorism, and mainly from terrorist attacks in the South. While this pales in comparison to the Philippines which has lost over 200,000 people on both sides, the Thai case is unique because it often involves fake news and fake news businesses that are connected to terrorist activities including terrorist financing and terrorist network development. There are also clear business links between known terrorist organisations in Thailand and across the region; this is made worse by the involvement of the illegal drug trade from the Golden Triangle all the way down South to Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat.
There are complex links between Thailand’s businesses and fake news. The fact remains that fake news is indelibly linked to scams, bribery, fraud, and corruption. Add this to a historical backdrop of the Three Uncertainties that we covered and one can immediately understand that fake news and fake businesses are here to stay.
Antonio L Rappa is Associate Professor and Head, Management and Security Studies, Singapore University of Social Sciences. He also teaches at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University.
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