Thailand's military junta received almost a quarter of a million Facebook ‘likes’ Friday, underscoring the freedom of social media in the digital-savvy nation even as television channels remained off-air.
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha quickly outlawed all forms of public protest and dissent in Thursday’s power grab, banning the publication of “information deemed a threat to national security” and anything critical of the new military regime.
TV stations were interrupted to carry the announcement that the army was taking control of the country, and have since been forced to broadcast patriotic music interrupted only by occasional public announcements from glum generals.
However, social media has so far remained uncensored – allowing millions of Thais to speak out about the political crisis, creating memes and using Twitter hashtags such as #thaicoup.
There are more than 20 million Facebook users in Thailand - almost one third of the entire population - and Bangkok is regularly named the world’s top metropolis for the platform. The city's Siam Paragon shopping was the world's most photographed location on Instagram in 2013.
Calling themselves the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, the army generals behind Thursday’s power grab appear to have posted copies of their diktats on Facebook.
The page, created on Tuesday when martial law was declared but updated after Thursday’s coup to carry the new name and logo of the junta, had received 230,000 ‘likes’ by 8 a.m. ET Friday, just over 24 hours after the coup.
That’s a tiny fraction of the 7.1 billion ‘likes’ awarded by Thais annually, and was balanced by a torrent of negative comments and obscene images posted by those opposed to the coup.
One of the biggest gripes from users was the old-fashioned martial music chosen by the junta for broadcast on the commandeered TV channels.
"Since you're reforming politics, you might as well reform your music," said one of many postings on the page, according to a translation by The Associated Press. "Please give us something more uplifting," said another comment.
Censorship of print media has been less specific, the AP reported. Some newspapers have printed commentaries questioning the coup, but when the state-owned Thai Public Broadcast Service tried to stream news online the army shut it down and detained the station's deputy director for several hours.