Opinion: A line must be drawn on these online witchhunts

Pro-democracy sentiments have taken root in Thai society with young people increasingly vocal about their demands for accountability and pluralism from the government. But along with that, another phenomenon is also growing just as fast — the urge to hold others accountable, and the urge to persecute.

Online campaigns are now being conducted by Thailand’s angry netizens against people and brands that are alleged to have supported or continue to support those that carried out the 2014 coup.

Nation TV and its sponsors, for example, are now under intense scrutiny and criticism with hundreds of thousands of netizens vowing to boycott all of their sponsors for the media outlet’s recent foul-ups and ties to the pro-military regime.

Meanwhile, Ma Ornapa, a well-renowned transgender TV personality, has now been forced to give up her role as host to her two shows Sai Kai and 3Zaap, likely due to her recent comments condemning young student protesters.

Crossing the line?

But where must we draw the line? When does righteous crusade become an ugly witch hunt?

In Ma Ornapa’s case, aside from criticisng and vowing to boycott her shows, netizens are also posting negative, homophobic comments mocking Ma Ornapa’s gender and dehumanzing and degrading her very character.

The torrents of abuse from netizens are starting to become less about what she has done, but more about her identity as a human being.

Not only that, netizens have gone as far as tracking down her 96-year-old mother and attacking her through Facebook page ห่อหมกแม่คุณม้าอรนภา, which she uses as a platform for her to sell her Thai steamed fish curry.

The storm of abuse has been unrelenting for Ma Ornapa and other anti-democracy celebrities, with the hashtag #แบนดาราสลิ่ม (ban salim celebrities) trending on Thai Twitter this past week. Thousands of netizens came forward to call out and boycot those who participated in the PDRC movement.

This “list of shame” has reached over 200 celebrities. Netizens have started tracking down the celebrities’ social media and family members, shaming them, and accusing them of being nation destroyers, demanding they come out to apologise and end their careers for good.

This bigs us with the question — should there be a line drawn between holding others accountable and tearing their lives apart?

This unforgiving culture embedded in Thai society today is not new — and hasn’t gone unnoticed. Other netizens have also come out to criticise these actions, claiming these witch hunts, cancel culture, and hate speech are an encroachment and just as totalitarian.

The problem with cancel culture and witch hunting

The term witch hunt got its name from the Salem witch trials hundreds of years ago, where many women were wrongly accused and convicted of being witches, and later tortured and executed.

The problem remains the same — targets rarely get a chance to redeem themselves, are branded as one entity forever by their actions, and are blamed for being the root cause of all the problems that occurred.

The problem here, like the Salem witch hunt, is that “the individual is not usually fully guilty of the crime they are accused of and targeted for. But when they are, a modern witch hunt will focus on their prosecution rather than the root of the cause.”

Nothing is ever in black and white.

Perpetuators are often unaware of the consequences of their actions, as they often care more about blaming and bringing others down rather than finding common ground and resolutions.

Here is another problem with cancel culture and witch hunting — it leaves no room for negotiation, forgiveness, and often — if not always — leaves our society more polarized and divided than ever before.

And oftentimes, it leaves no parties ever truly satisfied or fulfilled.

Why? Hate speeches and witch hunts will never be able to bring liberal democracy to Thailand because they are the very opposite of what that truly entails — respecting the opinions of others, learning from past mistakes, and participating in open, free discussion and debates.

No one actually wants reconciliation or harmony here, we have been hating and blaming one another from the start.

If we want change — a democratic, fair, open, free, and transparent Thailand — then that must first come from within.

Activism, calling for democracy, and holding those in power accountable is a just and righteous course of action — irrationally and irresponsibly persecuting and blaming others are far from it.

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