For the past three months, anti-government protests have spilled onto the internet with heated online debates over the merits of the military-backed Prayut Chan-ocha government.
Youthful internet users have conducted a witchhunt of sorts targeted at supporters of the military junta and former participants in the street protests that led to a 2014 military coup.
The anger and frustration and the continued military involvement in politics has manifested itself into boycotts and cancel-culture calls for the firing of high profile public figures that supported the Peoples Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protests which led to the military coup.
Several celebrities have lost their jobs because of comments they made in the past.
“This generation has been living with the consequences of what the PDRC did, which upset them and it is not the system that they wanted in the first place”, said Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, a lecturer at Ubon Ratchatani University’s Faculty of Political Science.
“So, living under the unwanted consequences and what the PDRC did is one of the main triggers for the anger towards the [Thai celebrities] that supported the PDRC”.
Critics have warned however that the continued witch hunt by the students risk alienating would-be supporters and flies in the values of a pluralistic democracy where freedom of opinion is respected.
One such critic is longtime Thai journalist and political observer Arun Saronchai who has argued that by adopting the current tone, the students are doing themselves a disservice.
“The students must sooner or later realize that not everyone supports their point of view and the only way to build a strong democracy is to build a foundation where all views are supported within the system,” Arun told Thai Enquirer.
Not everyone agrees.
“I think [the students] can demand accountability,” Titipol said.
“What I argue is that we have to look at the principles of what the country wants as well. If what the country wants is a democracy and, in the constitution says that Thailand is a democratic country, the students have a right to demand the former PDRC supporters to apologize because by supporting a military coup, it delays and destroys the progress of democracy.”
An emphasis on human dignity
“I think that the problem now is that people do not draw the line between criticism and harassment which is a problem, especially when fighting for equal rights. And people put too much liberty on the term freedom”, said Titipol.
“But freedom of expression does not give you the right to harass people or be hateful.”
“When the protesters talk about fighting for human rights and Thailand needs to abide by international commitment, but when looking at the documents that they are referring to in the UN declaration, the very first article states that people are born free, equal in dignity and rights. But they skipped the word dignity and focus on the word rights”, Titipol said.
According to Arun, the students will be vindicated and by taking the high road they can preserve their dignity while making those that had once advocated for dictatorship look foolish.
“I think only one set of people are out there demanding a system of government where everyone gets to vote and all voices are heard, that is called a democracy,” Arun said.
“The other side is demanding obedience, servitude and to not question the status quo. They support armed men taking away your freedom. History will judge one side more kindly than the other, the students do not need to conduct these online witchhunts.”