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Thai military: Think before you tweet

By Madison Park, CNN
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Thai anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong, center, gestures as he arrives escorted by police and soldiers at a military court in Bangkok on Thursday, June 12. The prominent anti-coup figure faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of incitement, computer crimes and ignoring a summons by the junta, police said. The Thai military carried out a coup May 22 after months of unrest had destabilized the country's elected government and caused outbursts of deadly violence in Bangkok. Thai anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong, center, gestures as he arrives escorted by police and soldiers at a military court in Bangkok on Thursday, June 12. The prominent anti-coup figure faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of incitement, computer crimes and ignoring a summons by the junta, police said. The Thai military carried out a coup May 22 after months of unrest had destabilized the country's elected government and caused outbursts of deadly violence in Bangkok.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thai military takes control and restricts nation's TV and radio
  • Netizens turn to social media to get updates, voice opinions
  • Military has warned not to be critical on social media posts

Editor's note: CNN TV has been taken off air in Thailand. The people of Thailand deserve to know what is happening in their own country, and CNN is committed to telling them. Follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter, and share your updates from Thailand via CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- The coup was televised through one messenger.

When the Thailand military announced it had taken over the government, it also meant that all state-run, satellite and cable TV providers had been ordered to carry only one signal -- that of the army's.

Major news channels, including CNN, have been taken off air. Even Cartoon Network and Thai PBS could no longer air their usual programs. Patriotic music showing the military logo dominated broadcast signals.

Booky Bookin of Bangkok says that every channel on his TV currently shows this image, including when he tries to turn to CNN.
Booky Bookin of Bangkok says that every channel on his TV currently shows this image, including when he tries to turn to CNN.

Without radio stations or television channels, those in Thailand who had access to the Internet turned to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and various messaging apps.

READ: Latest on Thai coup

Trending hashtags related to Thursday's coup included #ThaiCoup and its Thai language version, which translates to "Coup d'etat 2557" (2557 is the current Thai year on a Buddhist calendar), as well as a more offbeat #CoupMovies.

One user referred to the dozen successful coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Social media has become increasingly important in government upheavals. Examples include the Arab Spring, the 2009 Iranian election results protests and the #Euromaidan movement in Ukraine that started late last year.

When the flow of information is stemmed through more traditional channels, many seek alternatives for updates and information. Where protests and public gatherings were restricted, people connected and gathered virtually.

Thailand remains under martial law, which among other things includes restrictions on where protesters can gather, what TV and radio broadcasters can air and what can be posted on social media.

Netizens have been warned by the Peace and Order Maintaining Council (POMC), which has seized power, not to post content that could be considered opposing or critical of the Thai military group.

That didn't stop the tweets.

"I'd be surprised if the army did censor social media, because I think it's a really bad move," said Jon Russell, Asia editor at The Next Web. "Already, they've been criticized by the international community for what they've done. Censoring the Internet is an awful means to an end -- they'd lose a lot more than they'd gain from doing it."

Anti-government protesters welcome coup
Thailand military coup latest

Russell, who has lived in Thailand for five years, wrote in a post that "Thailand has not been afraid to censor social media in the past."

Thailand temporarily banned YouTube in 2007, because of materials deemed offensive to the King, according to news reports. And in 2011, Thai authorities asked Facebook to remove materials considered insulting to the monarchy, according to several outlets.

Facebook is the most dominant social network in Thailand, with 26% of the population using it, according to the social management system, Hootsuite. Following is Google+ and Twitter. Instagram is also surging in popularity in the country.

READ: Bangkok was the most Instagrammed location in the world last year

Critics of the coup are not the only ones voicing their political thoughts on social media.

On Tuesday, a Facebook page purporting to represent the Peace and Order Maintaining Council was created. Its info page said its purpose is to "distribute news, information and announcements pertaining to POMC."

In just four days, the page had 200,000 Facebook likes.

CNN's Kocha Olarn, Jethro Mullen and Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.

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