Facebook: Heaven and hell for expressionists

BANGKOK - Mark Zuckerberg may never have thought that his idea of a dating network could turn into heaven and hell for people across the world.

According to Socialbakers statistics, Thailand has 14.6 million Facebook users, which makes it the 16th biggest Facebook country in the world. More than 1.3 million new users have signed up in the last six months, mainly people aged between 25 and 34. Facebook penetration in Thailand is 22.01 per cent of the country's population, and 83.6 per cent in relation to the number of Internet users.

There is only one reason to explain this: Facebook is a tool that makes the world smaller.

When the Internet was introduced in Thailand, e-mail was the first most popular feature. Search engines came of age later, with mega-tonnes of information uploaded from the Internet. But Facebook is a tool that allows people to share their stories with friends and the general public, no matter where they are on Earth.

Facebook is now widely used by companies to promote their products and disseminate corporate information. With Facebook, companies also need to improve their monitoring activities, to root out any postings that contain negative comments.

One of my colleagues used Facebook to voice her grievance against a computer company. As her attempts to contact the company's help centre were useless, she wrote about her problem on her Facebook page. Within the day, she finally got a response. Her problem was solved.

At a session hosted by mediainsideout.org a week ago, Pirongrong Ramasoota, a professor at the Department of Journalism, Chulalongkorn University, made an interesting remark. She said there is a thin line between private and public life on Facebook. Some think that their Facebook pages are limited only to their friends, but once those friends share those thoughts on publicly-open pages, those opinions are put out there in cyberspace for all to read and react to.

Suthipong Thammawut, an executive at TV Burapa, learnt a lesson the hard way following his accidental posting of a message. His Facebook page is open to all, as he intends to disseminate his Buddhist Dharma-based thoughts to the general public.

The havoc started with a message that had circulated for some time about the quality of packaged rice. He copied it to his message box. But as he was writing a comment on top of that, it was accidentally posted. Calling himself a technology illiterate, he said he should have known that the message could be deleted. When he got help from his company's technician for the deletion, it was too late. In a matter of minutes, he was condemned for joining the chorus of attacks on the government's credibility regarding the rice-price pledging scheme.

Making the matter worse, he reacted to some negative comments in an emotional way. He admitted that he should have followed what his children were told: in this world, we need to maintain our sense of proportion, no matter what our eyes and ears perceive.

The consequence was that he was liable to lawsuits, and he was told by his lawyer to keep quiet on the matter. Only recently did he decide to contact the owner of the rice company in question and apologise for his mistake.

This explains why I post only my own columns, some articles from The Nation, and photos of food and flowers on my Facebook page. I am fascinated with Zuckerberg's product. But now I'm also wondering what the world would be like without Facebook. Would it be quieter and more peaceful, at least in Thailand?