WILL THERE BE a looming Twitter battle or a drawn-out face-to-face in Facebook between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra?
Forget it. It’s no more than a blogger’s pipe dream.
No, not because the duo are facing the same problem as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who last week confessed in New Delhi that he had given up on Facebook because he simply couldn’t keep up with the friend requests. He said: “There were 10,000 people wanting to be my friend … it was too time consuming to decide if I knew this person … did I not know this person.”
Neither is it because Abhisit – who also opened an account on Hi5 before he discovered Twitter and Facebook – shares some critics’ scepticism that Twitter represents, as I read in one of the livelier blogs, a general state of self-absorbed thoughtlessness in a culture drowning in pointless, irresponsible, silly, absurd, self-indulgent celebrity obsession.
No, it’s not that the two have taken note of the negative side of these political marketing tools which, as Andrew Keen put it in “The Cult of the Amateur”, is nothing more than “ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule … on steroids”.
I doubt whether Abhisit and Thaksin are even aware that there has been an ongoing debate in the blogosphere about whether Twitter should be given a Nobel Peace Prize – an argument proposed recently by the US Deputy National Security Adviser, Mark Pfeifle, for Twitter’s role in supporting the recent uprising in Iran.
Both Abhisit and Thaksin – at least from their initial experiments on Twitter over the past few days – still don’t appear to appreciate that these social media are two-way communications, not tools to propagate their own political messages.
They need to understand that they aren’t just posting messages to make them look good to their voters. Twitter – and Facebook for that matter – are much more than that. As Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote in his blog recently: “The creators of Twitter deserve big accolades because they have invented what could be compared to a newly discovered, very usable, radio-wave frequency. It’s a new plane of communication. It’s truly world changing.
“Twitter isn’t like SMS text messages because the visibility of Twitter messages isn’t limited to a finite set of intended recipients. Twitter messages are both personal and public, targeted and broadcast, experienced individually and available for aggregate analysis by anyone who cares to process them. Twitter is synchronous. It’s for one-on-one, small group and very large group conversations. All at once!”
It offers all these fantastic channels of communications and yet it only has a box that asks: “What are you doing?”
So far, Thaksin seems to have only posted messages that ask for his own benefit: “What are you doing to me?” Abhisit’s postings on Twitter, on the other hand, consist of nothing but excerpts from his public speeches.
This means they are both using these highly vibrant, two-way social media as a one-way street, without the passion and the “addiction” so vital to make their digital presence really felt.
To make things worse, they aren’t really posting those messages themselves. Thaksin let the cat out of the bag when he said he had been “reading Twitter printouts” provided by his staff. He has been treating Twitter like a fax machine. And that is scandalous for someone who once described himself as a “third wave man”.
You knew Abhisit hadn’t been that hands-on either when he said he wasn’t sure who had posted a Twitter message wishing Thaksin a happy birthday on his behalf.
At first he gave the impression that an impostor could have messed around with his Twitter account. But more than 24 hours later his spokesman revealed that one of his staff members had in fact carried out that task for him – all in good faith, of course.
And the message in question was in fact taken from a quote – “If I could communicate with him, I would wish that Thaksin see Dharma so that he could be happier” – from his own interview on TV that same morning!
It is therefore premature and naive for the print media to exclaim in headlines that an Internet “war” is breaking out between the two. For one thing, they are still treating Twitter and Facebook like typewriters and fax messages – best handled by their respective secretaries and staff members. For another, they are still too afraid to answer Twitter’s most probing question: “What are you [really] doing?” (My italics.)
Abhisit doesn’t seem to know the answer to that question just yet. Thaksin doesn’t want anyone to know what he is up to.
In less than 140 characters, I can tell you this: Despite all the hype, the last thing they want is an open duel on Twitter.
(Check out my Tweets at www.twitter.com/suthichai.)
By Suthichai Yoon
Published on July 30, 2009
How’s the Abhisit-Thaksin race on Twitter faring?
The last time I checked (at 9.20 am today), Abhisit Vejjajiva and Thaksin Shinnawatr were still fighting for new followers on their Twitter accounts. Thaksin was ahead with 6,511 with Abhisit trailing with 4,923. Interestingly enough, Abhisit seems to be following other people much more than Thaksin. Abhisit was following 1,801 other people while Thaksin had only 3 he was interested in following.
In the Mr Twitter “contest” though, Abhisit was enjoying a far greater lead than Thaksin.
Bear in mind, of course, that neither Abhisit nor Thaksin is sitting in front of the computer or holding a mobile phone to update their Tweets. They each have their respective staff handling their Twitter accounts.
So what you read is all that “nominee” stuff again!