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The early history of Clubhouse in Thailand was filled with tales of CEOs imparting business wisdom as well as the migration of celebrities looking for more spotlight in this latest internet sensation.
Enter Rukchanok “Nanaice” Srinork, a virtual unknown who almost single-handedly made Clubhouse her own.
With much free time on her hands due to slowing sales, this 27-year-old online merchant instead devoted her energy to politics. Her first foray into Clubhouse was a whimsical one, posing as former PM Yingluck Shinawatra in a mock Parliament Clubhouse session which coincided with a censure debate.
But as the discussion in the actual Parliament intensified, so did her seriousness.
With the censure reaching its zenith in Rungsiman Rome’s deep dive on “Elephant Ticket” (ตั๋วช้าง), a shortcut to police promotion allegedly, Rukchanok was quick to capitalise, launching a discussion on Clubhouse on the matter.
The room was filled to its 8,000 capacity in mere minutes, a feat regularly achieved only by academic superstar Pavin Chachavalpongpun and the avuncular Tony Woodsome.
During that session, several speakers shared their frustration and ordeals about working under the brutal and crooked police system. That session, and lectures by several liberal academics, redefined Clubhouse as a premier online platform for socio-political discussions in Thailand.
It is not only her role as a moderator and topic starter that brought her fame, but her forthright speaking that also resonates with the liberals, especially the younger generations. In a now-legendary inaugural Clubhouse session for Thaksin Shinawatra (who goes by the alias Tony Woodsome), Rukchanok composed herself before telling it straight to Uncle Tony that young people in Thailand truly demand monarchy reform. Her bravery won plaudits from liberal netizens who felt very well represented by the remark.
In another incident, unaware of her past exploits, the moderator in Anutin Charnvirakul’s debut Clubhouse session invited Rukchanok to speak. There, she started off by reprimanding the Health Minister for his consistently failed efforts in wearing a mask properly and his imbecile antics on social media. Then, true to her form, she questioned why the Sinovac vaccine carried a “royally bestowed” tag despite being paid for by taxpayers. Predictably but rudely, she was abruptly kicked from the virtual pedestal before Anutin gave a half-baked answer. Her online popularity, however, remained intact.
Rukchanok’s rapid rise to fame was not without critiques. Some of her Clubhouse sessions can feel a little cliquish, where most of the conservation occurred among her and a handful of her close peers. Also, her remark on Thaksin has angered some of the diehard redshirts, who managed to unearth some of her past Facebook posts containing vitriolic attacks on pro-democracy supporters, in particular Aum Neko, a political exile currently in France. In response, Rukchanok, a former Salim, apologised profusely for her violent past and vowed to atone for her “sins”.
So far, she has been true to her words.
On a viral video clip taken on the night of the March 6 protest in front of the Criminal Court, Rukchanok can be seen delivering a two-minute sermon to on-field reporters, criticising some of the media outlets for twisting the truth which in turn legitimised the use of excessive force by the authority. She capped off her live Clubhouse talk with reference to the death of 99 red shirts during the 2009 crackdown amidst roaring cheers from the demonstrators, part of which have been rallying since the 2006 putsch.
Her rise from an ordinary netizen to a pro-democracy icon naturally drew the ire of conservatives and royalists, who recently bombarded her Twitter account with searing and insulting comments. Her impassioned live speech could also land her in hot water, as Anchalee Paireerak, an ultra-royalist news anchor mentioned in that speech, has threatened a lawsuit against her.
I had a chance to meet with the real Rukchanok in a reading club event the day after. There, she discussed at length the similarities of 1984 and real-world dictatorships. When asked about the possible litigation, she simply replied “please save me.”
For the past month or so, Rukchanok has been trying her best to be the voice of the liberals and the common people, to express our collective distaste of the current state of the country to a wider audience.
Now, it may be time for us to rise in unison, and give “the Lady” the support she will eventually need as her spotlight grows.
By TP Pensri