‘What is wrong with Indonesia': Trolls flood Thai couple’s gay wedding photos with death threats in cross-cultural flame war

Suriya Koedsang pictured with his husband Bas at their wedding, in a photo that was uploaded to Facebook.
PHOTO: Facebook

When Suriya Koedsang uploaded photos of his wedding to Facebook on April 4, the 28-year-old Thai never could have imagined the hate his heartwarming post would soon receive from online trolls in Indonesia. 

Within days, the pictures of Koedsang and his husband Bas’ April 3 marriage ceremony began attracting homophobic comments, ranging from rants about how homosexuality is “a sin” according to Islam, to posts listing various Indonesian words for the male reproductive organ.

As of Friday, the post had attracted more than 469,000 comments and been shared some 40,000 times.

Not all the messages were negative, however – the couple’s fellow Thais were quick to jump to their defence, creating something of a cross-cultural face-off in the comments section.

“So weird. They got married in Thailand but Indonesians have a problem with that. Why? Did they [get] married in your country? Why [do] you interfere?” wrote one Thai user named Nattaworada Imsamran, in an example of the messages of support the couple received. 

By April 11, however, the negative comments had snowballed into death threats that were not only directed at the couple, but also Koedsang’s “parents, relatives, including the photographer”, he wrote in a follow-up Facebook post.

“I have never replied and only [thought] that they would stop in a few days. However, they are more severe in their comments, threatening, frightening us,” he said.

Indonesian Facebook users sent the couple “video of slaughter to terrify us”, Koedsang wrote, “why? We married in my warm house … [in our] own motherland. What is wrong with Indonesia and Indonesians? Why [do they] need to be that dramatic?”

He went on to say in his post that he “respects all religions” including Islam and that “religion never teaches you to hate others and look down on people.” 

“When I studied in [the southern Thai province of] Pattani where most people are Muslim, I had no problems at all, nor even [a] difficult time,” he said. 

Lawyer Ronnarong Kaewpetch, head of the Network of Campaigning for Justice in Thailand, came to the couple’s defence in the comments section under Koedsang’s April 11 post.

“Indonesian people, don’t think you guys are there, and I can’t do anything. Any day you enter Thailand, I’ll have police waiting with arrest warrants against you,” he was cited as saying by Coconuts Media

Koedsang on Tuesday said that he intended to keep the comments open on his public Facebook posts so that he would have “evidence in legal action” - a threat Rachmat Budiman, Indonesia’s ambassador to Thailand, told local news portal Detik he thought was “excessive”.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told Detik that he hopes “there is no bad impact from the incident”, adding that Bangkok had not lodged any official complaint about it. On Wednesday, Koedsang wrote on Facebook that he did not want to be interviewed by the media. 

As an Indonesian and a part of LGBT, I am truly sorry for the mean comments and death threats. It is such a shame. Please forgive us??#apologizetothailand #อินโดนีเซียขอโทษไทย #Indonesiasaysorryforthailand pic.twitter.com/wysJTbyHOE

— shara | READ PINNED TWEET PLS (@husbukuganyata) April 14, 2021

The incident has highlighted what some critics describe as as an “aggressive” culture of internet discourse in Indonesia.

Indonesians were ranked as Southeast Asia’s rudest internet users in tech giant Microsoft’s latest Digital Civility Index, published in February. The survey involved 16,000 respondents in 32 countries, with Indonesia ranking 29th – just ahead of Russia and South Africa. Among Southeast Asian countries, Singapore was found to have the most civil internet users, ranking fourth, while Malaysia came 10th, Thailand 19th and Vietnam 24th. 

Microsoft was forced to turn off the comments on its official Instagram account for a few days in the wake of the report’s publication, after Indonesian social media users flocked to it to bash the company.

Other targets of Indonesian online mobs in recent months have included the Badminton World Federation, which limited comments on its Instagram posts after they were targeted by Indonesians angry at the fact that Indonesia’s national badminton team were forced to withdraw from the All England Open Championships because of Covid-19; British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, after he was mistaken for one of the umpires at that competition; and Filipino teen TikToker Reema Martin, who was reportedly bullied into leaving social media by Indonesian women who accused her of seducing their partners.

One group of Indonesian trolls has vowed to carry on their attacks on Koedsang and his husband after claiming some Thai commenters “insulted Islam” by posting religiously charged memes. 

Not all Indonesians were as triggered by the couple’s wedding, however. The hashtag #IndonesiaSaySorryForThailand was trending worldwide on Twitter on Wednesday, with many saying that they felt ashamed of the attacks on the Thai couple. 

“As an Indonesian and a part of LGBT, I am truly sorry for the mean comments and death threats. It is such a shame. Please forgive us,” said one user named Shara.

“Not my fault, but I feel ashamed. Hope that the relations between the two countries will be even better. Sorry,” wrote another.

Koedsang in his Wednesday Facebook post thanked those Indonesian social media users who had apologised for their compatriots’ hate-filled remarks, as well as his fellow Thais for defending him, adding that both his and his husband’s families had been deeply affected by the needlessly negative comments, which were still flooding in at the time of writing.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.