The Same Sky webboard: The first era of online exchange on the monarchy

Know the older generation whose eyes were opened. The Same Sky webboard and the first era of online exchange on the monarchy.

Same Sky Books (fa diao kan) is a publishing house which produces content-heavy books of criticism, especially on Thai political history and the monarchy.  That is not a misunderstanding, but the story of Same Sky Books contains a more mysterious legend than that, of a hidden city with Khun Sapsueng as its icon.

This publishing house mainly produced journals before it started publishing academic books. Its first journal was launched in 2003. The founders were Thanapol Eawsakul, Chaithawat Tulathon and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who formed a partnership to realise their dreams of giving society a journal similar to the Social Science Review. If we look back at the covers of each issue, we will see the diversity of topics being critiqued, especially during the time Thaksin’s government was prospering up to the point where they separated. Only ‘Pu’ Thanapol, the main figurehead, stayed on. Now, books by this publishing house have been taken off the ‘shelves’ and put into the bags of many of the new generation. 

At that time, the internet was just spreading among the middle class. The websites of companies, organisations and various businesses could be said to have just started. People did not know of Wi-Fi. To connect to the internet, they needed to buy an internet package and connect it to a modem connected to their house telephone, and suffer beeps and whistles for quite a while; we did not even need to think of social media yet.

Same Sky also created a website for selling books, launched in July 2006, or in other words, 2 months before the coup led by Sonthi Boonyaratglin. At that time, politics was very heated. The movement of yellow shirts led by Sondhi Limthongkul was scaling up. On the Same Sky Books website, there was a webboard or conversation board as well. At that time, webboards did the job of social media today. It was a space for people to discuss a range of things. For politics, well-known venues were Pantip’s Rajdumnern Room, the Midnight University, Prachatai, Same Sky, Serithai, etc. 

“At that time webboards were free. It was an extra; the website that our company used was a readymade one and it came with a free webboard,” Thanapol said of the start of the legendary webboard. 

Of course, the icon ‘Khun Sapsueng’ [Mr Grateful] which people are grateful for is a free emoji that came with the free webboard. Although it was not especially designed, people accepted it as an important symbol known among all those in the same generation. It is probably similar to (but not as cheeky as) Kromluang Kakkairatborirak, formerly known as Rubber Duck. 

Thanapol Eawsakul

After the coup in September 2006, many discussion spaces on politics were shut down. The general atmosphere of censorship in the online world became more and more strict, while criticisms of the role of the monarchy began to shoot up because of the coup. Not long after, only a few discussion spaces were left that allowed people to talk with any degree of freedom. The place with the highest threshold was Same Sky’s webboard. 

“We thought only of being a space that goes as far as this country goes.  Post anything, no need to login, no nothing. If we believe in liberty, it has to be like this. This country has too many things we can’t talk about. Other things can be talked about too. We didn’t create the webboard just to talk about the monarchy. It’s just that the situation at that time was very heated. We started to have regular visitors like Acharn Somsak (Jeamteerasakul). He was there from the beginning, and was one of the pioneers in the country to release articles and documents on topics that couldn’t be talked about or were difficult to talk about. We were okay with it. Let people come and argue,” Thanapol said. 

Thanapol’s thoughts on freedom may have appeared too extreme in that era where people were arguing about freedom vs. responsibility. Most people were afraid of the anonymous phenomenon, which was still very new at that time – anyone could type anything they wanted without needing to be responsible for it. Even so, Thanapol seemed have a great belief in the power of discussion itself to naturally shake things up to be on the track of reason and appropriateness in a natural way.

“I don’t really agree with censorship, even for the worst comments. If you have a terrible opinion and someone opposes or criticizes you, the reader still benefits. Look at Somsak. If you’re on his side, he may insult you harshly, but if Somsak says the opposite, he would be relatively polite. It’s a trick. He wasn’t writing a reply only for that person, but also for others on the right wing to read as well. We think similarly. If a terrible person writes something, come and write, come on, come on you! We won’t delete it. People will then respond and oppose. Others who read it will know themselves what each comment is like, what kind is disgusting. They get to learn and will not dare to show that kind of disgusting behaviour,” Thanapol explained. 

It cannot be denied that Somsak Jeam was an influential figure in the webboard at that time – an academic and indefatigable critic. He was flexible in finding spaces for discussion, while other academics in the same generation may not have yet adapted to or accepted the culture of the online world. Somsak not only spoke about the monarchy, but also made people ‘boil’ by criticising the political movements of various groups, especially the ‘democratic side’. He criticised the concepts of many important academics, humping them, shaking them up, showing no respect, especially to the anti-Thaksin side which had started to build up solidly within the intelligentsia before the coup (various posts by Somsak have been collected at http://somsakcoup.blogspot.com/)

And so how serious was a taboo topic such as the monarchy in the webboard? Actually, the seriousness or intensity of the topic no doubt relates to the socio-political context. Same Sky Books was created before the 2006 coup, soared in 2008-2009, before closing down around 2011 (overlapping with when Facebook came into existence). That time was when King Rama IX had reigned for over 6 decades already – his popularity and people’s love for him was brimming, especially when His Majesty entered old age and fell ill, having to stay in hospital for a long time. Discussion of this, if it was not praise, was almost a forbidden topic. The expression of critical opinion, even in academia, was very limited. At the same time, tough tactics were used widely after the 2006 coup through prosecutions under Section 112, together with new laws like the Computer Crime Act which was enforced specifically as a security law for the online world.

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Topics discussed on the webboard may be as one webboard user answered in an interview: the most thrilling and the most fun at the same time. 

“It was a utopia; real free speech. You could say anything, we joked and we got scared. But it was itchy, it was fun, it was addictive. I had to go read it every day. And it wasn’t just about the monarchy. People may think that the Same Sky webboard only had politics. Actually, there were many rooms. There was a lifestyle room, one where people shared porn videos, one for exchanging on sexual topics, they really went all out on all topics. There were some threads asking ridiculous questions, like if we masturbate at the same time all across the country would there be a flood?”

Another webboard user said that for him, reading the webboard did not affect his thinking as much as the feeling of knowing that there was still a free space, like a place that they can breathe easily, have clear air, somewhere not suffocating. At least news on protests or people from the same side as the Red Shirts was here. They were the young sprouts posing questions related to the monarchy during the time where the monarchy was most popular. 

Another webboard user told us about the situation at that time, about where people who were interested in politics went to talk to each other and what each place was like.

“On the Prachatai webboard, people talked within a threshold. At most they would say that Gen Prem was behind the coup. There were some who tried to shoot past that threshold, but Prachatai’s webboard wasn’t able to satisfy them. People also felt sympathetic towards the administrators who started to get sued, so they shifted to the Same Sky webboard. The atmosphere here had people like Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul posting articles about the role of the monarchy in politics and research on topics which were once taboo, like the death of King Rama VIII, and 6 October 1976. He provided direct and open information, all within the law and not a violation of Section 112. We called it “Somsak’s threshold,” speaking about taboo topics on the monarchy, but having to be very careful not to go farther than what Dr. Somsak achieved. Whoever went beyond might get called in or prosecuted. This had been seen before. Everyone who played the Same Sky webboard needed to keep inside Somsak’s threshold.”

One of Somsak Jeam’s threads which has been collected is called an ask-yourself-answer-yourself, bring-it-up-yourself-slap-it-down-yourself article: To all the loyal people, when you say “the King has done good” (so the Thai people respect him), if I ask you “how do you know?” you won’t be able to answer. It was published on 1 January 2009, New Year’s Day. If anyone can remember the atmosphere 10 years ago, they would know well that it was not a question people would ask. Even the author had to put it away for 2 years before posting it and had to write an introduction that was careful about the feelings of those who think differently. Even more provocatively, Somsak used this same message to post a thread on webboards where royalists gathered, like Serithai, but unfortunately, it was deleted before long.

“This text, I finished writing in November 2007 but did not publish it because I was afraid of being attacked by a dark power or those without intelligence. Nevertheless, after time has passed and I have thought it over seriously, I still think that this topic I am presenting is important, and I believe that proposing it is not against the law. Importantly, it is not against the principles of democracy and human rights which are important principles of the current world that everyone says are accepted. So I would like to present it here for discussion. I would like to reconfirm that those who are confident in the correctness of their own beliefs must be ready to counter and confute with reason opinions that are contrary to their own beliefs, not to claim or threaten with force or compulsion. That would only show that your own opinion does not truly rely on its correctness.”

The discussion of Somsak in that thread focused on the one-sided public relations that cannot be proven, the existence of Section 112 that closes people’s mouths, and the lack of an efficient scrutiny of various royal projects which all seemed to be automatic exceptions. But discussion was thin.

Unfortunately, we can no longer search for the traces of the various threads on Same Sky on the internet.

On 4 January 2008, or around one year after its launch, the Same Sky webboard was ordered to be shut down before an announcement was made in response, “it gets shut down, we can open it again.” Then its server was moved overseas. 

On 21 January 2008, there was another famous thread which someone has kept the evidence of. We have selected some parts to present as an example of the atmosphere on the webboard. The name of the thread was When did you start to have this kind of (anti-royalist) thought? It was posted by the user ‘Chao_khafadiaokan’ (เจ้า_ข้าฟ้าเดียวกัน). Many people replied to the thread, for example:

  •  For me, I can’t really say when it was exactly, but I just know that my dad would always say…
     “Why does there need to be the 8 pm news every day?” 
    “Why is it that when we’re walking, we have to stop if it’s 6 pm?” 
    “I want to watch a movie and they still make me listen to musicccccccc?” 
    “Going out once, tens of thousands more people get stuck in traffic because…” (Uisiapo) 
  • During the last football world cup, I wanted to watch a match live but had to wait until the 8 pm news was over. The first 20 minutes was already over by the time I could watch it. So stupid. (Anonymous Coward)
  • Ever since I became interested in politics and started to question why democracy in our country doesn’t work, why does the military always rule over the country, I always try to find reasons going back in circles. I searched for information for quite a number of months. Then I came to this system. The only way is for xyz to stop participating in politics indirectly, stop accumulating power; the people need to respect the people’s voice more than respecting any one person. (monarchy)
  • Hahahahahahaha. Pffftt. I mean the antis. Who cares? Who cares? Sometimes I think it’s funny and sometimes boring but it’s not like I have a grudge and hate them as much as many of the people on this board. Hahahahaha. Some just only moan about every single thing until I’m annoyed, moaning until sometimes it was a complete mess, hahahahaha. I’m just being myself, alright? I don’t believe anything easily or listen to other people’s shit and moan about others just for fun. But I’m also not crazy in love with them either, because I’m so annoyed with my TV; why did it become black and white and how, hahahahaha? I look topic by topic, okay? Anything I don’t like, I complain. Anything they do well, I’m all good. Whoever does good, then I say it’s good. I support it. I don’t insult the whole lot like you people. (Buffalo boy)
  • Ever since I was a kid. I often have questions inside my heart. Why do I have to stand in the cinema? I would prefer it to be voluntary.  (Sovereignty)
  • I’m not an anti, more like “indifferent”. And I want royalty in the future to also act “indifferent”. It would probably be a great benefit to the nation. I’m scared that after King Rama IX, it would be like after King Rama V. (Prometheus)
  • Ah, it’s like The Maeo [Maeo is the nickname of Thaksin Shinawatra] who didn’t want anyone to know how much money he had. He had to divide it up and entrust it to his driver, his gardener, his housekeeper … (Phua phloe laeo choe kan) [When the husband’s not looking we meet]
  • When it started to be not okay was when I read an article by Acharn Somsak on the royal song ‘Rao Su’ [We Fight] … I can’t believe that just a ‘song’ would have such a complex and deep meaning … I started to wonder, then I read about the 6 Oct incident in detail. Oh… (Uchu)
  • Ever since I was a child, Because I was waiting to watch a cartoon after the news but it was cancelled because of a documentary on ‘god’. Actually, I don’t really hate them nor am I an anti, but I just don’t like the culture of worshipping them as if they were gods. And I don’t like using royal language. It feels like a segregation of class and caste. And what’s wrong with TV these days I don’t know – filling our eyes and ears with all this as if they want to hypnotise us. (Siegfriend)
  • What anti-royalty, no, not at all, I’m crazy about them, I mean, I love them even more than I love my wife. (Chan rak khana ratsadon) [I love the People’s Party]
  • Who, who’s an anti-royalist? Heyyyyy, do they really exist? Completely impossible. Not true, not true... Waen really doesn’t believe it.... if they’re Thai, they must love and worship the monarchy definitely. No one would dare differ, be different from us. If there is no royalty, we would not have this comfortable life in Thailand, this king of quality high life.  And royalty, living gods, brilliant all of them.  Anti what?  Let them be humble.  They’re just jealous. (Waen na)
  • The pledge in front of the flagstaff, I didn’t say it. During my graduation ceremony as well. My friend looked at me, why is this bitch not saying it? But there are many things where I don’t agree with those who are arguing with each other.
  1. “His Majesty the King”: nobody would really do this. It’s language culture. Seen from the perspective of language, it is a beautiful thing and the identity of the Thai language, which is that Thai has “language levels”; it is one of the beauties of the language. Language comes from people’s daily lives, but many countries have “feudalism” and much more strongly than us, and the “language levels” are not as clear as in Thai. I want us to be proud of this.
  2. Closing off traffic: this seems to be a matter of safety, because he is the country’s monarch. In every country, whenever the monarch travels, closing off traffic is normal. (Der Hund)
  • If it’s when I started to think (I stress it was really only that), it was during senior high school. The annoyance at having to “recite royal language” for an exam. I thought “why do we have to separate castes?” The important turning point was studying at the Faculty of Political Science. I became one of those “crazy about politics and obsessed with democracy”. When 19 Sept happened, it became even worse. In the end, I went through a process of webboardization continually for about a year and now I’m like this. P.S. when I was young, I used to worship him a lot. I even went as far as thinking “I would die for him” (a little before I became a teenager). (fallingangels)
  • You can only bark. Even if the royalty paid tax, you’d still find something to blame them for, you bunch of animals. (freeman)
  • The Special Branch came to ask a trick question. Whoever falls for it is done for. (Bunhaek Nongsamthiak)
  • The richest no.1 while Thais are still poor. (Tasawang) [Opened eyes]
  • You’re well off, huh, all of you, including the one who started the thread. The royals have both good and bad sides, but have you bunch of fuckers, have you lot who keep insulting them ever done anything beneficial for this nation, this country? Ah, you bastards. (Come and take them off to prison)
  • With the honour of a scout, I swear that
    1. I will be loyal to the nation, religion and King.
    2. I will always help others.
    3. What I have said are lies.(TKNS_interpreter)

etc.

The movement under the Same Sky

  • 26 August: PAD took over Government House; 66,422 page views
  • 7 October: Police suppressed PAD protests; 120,396 page views
  • 13 October: The Queen attended Angkhana Radappanyawut’s funeral; 195,710 page views
  • 27 November: PAD closed Suvarnabhumi; 339,890 page views
  • 7 October – 23 December 2008: web display; 15,668,826 page views, an average of 200,882 page views per day

The vehemence of the discussions continued to increase. Both the number of political webboard users increased tremendously and the sharpness of topics being discussed, including forms of satire, humour, the use of symbols and narration tactics which boomed in the hope of avoiding Section 112.

In March 2009, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, as administrator of the Prachatai webboard, was issued with an arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act as the intermediary who allowed 10 posts which constituted lèse majesté to remain in the system for many days before being deleted. Prachatai was another place where the freedom threshold was quite high, but still not as high as Same Sky. After the lawsuit, Prachatai tried to keep the webboard open until they eventually had to shut it down in July 2010.

In 2009, many webboard users were sued and arrested throughout the year, especially Suwicha Thakor, the first defendant to be sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting on the internet 2 photos and messages that violated Section 112. He was sentenced in April 2009, and served around 1 year in prison before being pardoned. 

In June 2009, Thanapol was called in as a witness for a Section 112 and Computer Crime Act case. Thanapol refused to provide an IP address to the authorities unless there was a court order. Consequently in July 2009, Thanapol announced the separation of URLs for the Same Sky website and webboard and also announced that he would not be the administrator and would not be legally responsible for the webboard, so the members needed to find a new admin. A while after that, the webboard name was changed from Same Sky to weallarehuman (khonmueankan) around 2010. The new webboard name was chosen from votes cast by members. 

How strong is the sense of community here? The answer is, to the point that those in the community, who did not know who was who, were the ones who made an announcement in response to the state’s actions to suppress those who made comments on the monarchy which were inseparably related to the socio-political situation at that time, such as the case where Thai stocks took an abnormal dive because of a certain rumour. 

“The arrest of three freemen: Khatha, Theeranan and Somjet, for messing with the stock market: it is a fact that Khatha had already expressed an opinion concerning the reason after the stocks fell and Theeranan had also translated an analysis from international sources on the cause of the fall in stocks. You can see that all three were not the “cause” of this situation, no matter which way we look at it.  

“This story reflects that an intentionally careless arrest like this occurred in order to support hidden motives and attempts to enlarge the results. For example, the threat against the Same Sky webboard (www.sameskyboard.com), the Prachatai webboard (www.prachataiwebboard.com) and other free speech conversation boards, relying on an outdated and despicable law, such as the Criminal Code’s Section 112. The 2007 Computer Crime Act is another tool in this set of threats. 

“Expressing one’s opinions and the publication of news of various events are all basic requirements of the people’s rights and freedoms. Claims that this is a threat to [national] security are all pretexts by dictatorial governments in all eras. In truth, there are a large number of rumours in the stock market, including various variables and factors. The deep focus on this issue, the rumours about the monarchy, shows that those in power want to expand their influence to violate the rights to freedom of expression of internet users-online communities, in the way of dictators through censoring the perceptions and political expression of the people by trying to claim that investors are on their side…”

Even though the situation was all the time posing more and more risks of getting jailed, it still seemed incapable of closing the mouths and eyes of curious people in this country. There was a new saga which people still talk about to this day, a ‘novel’ about 200 chapters long, released over almost 3 years on the webboard: ‘Canned fish factory’ by Yai Hai or Hi S. Somsak Jeam said that a chapter of this novel appeared almost every day on the webboard from July 2009 to the first half of 2010. Each day, thousands of people waited to read it online. Near the end, before the webboard was shut down, the thread had more than a million views.

“It was half-fact half-fiction, with the author using “aliases” such as “uncle,” “auntie,” “ja” [sergeant], “mep”, etc. But all the readers knew that these referred to the King, Queen, Crown Prince, Princess Sirindhorn, etc., and that “factory” meant Thailand, “employees” meant the people, “former manager” (or “Maeo”) meant Thaksin, etc. 

“This text or what people called a “novel” first appeared on 21 September 2009. The login name “Hi s” posted a “thread” on the Same Sky board under the name “Progress report on xxx’s illness”. This was when the King started to have chronic illnesses and was admitted for treatment at Siriraj. ... Within a short time, board users started to find out that this thread was something that had never existed before; it was a tale of “information from the inner circles,” both on the illness of the King (what his illness was, the name of his doctor, etc.) to personal relationships within the family between royal family members. (I, who write mainly about the monarchy on the webboard don’t write about these things.)”

The closing question: if the webboards at that time are compared to this era’s social media, what are the similarities and differences? The answer must be from someone who has experience in both.

“We people can change or at least make differing opinions something normal. People do not stay still and, believe me, it’s not passing on hatred that much at all. Just having a middle ground can change people. At least people can have a place to argue fairly. If it’s Facebook, it’s like we go to somebody else’s house. When the argument gets heavy, that person can block or delete you, but on a webboard only the admin can delete you, not your opponent,” Thanapol said. 

Another webboard user who has used the webboard since Grade 11, until now when he has gone to study overseas, provided his opinion by comparing it to Twitter:

“Overall, Twitter has a similar atmosphere to the webboards of that time. That is, people talk about the monarchy directly without beating around the bush. But Twitter’s limitations, also of Facebook, may be that it is not good enough as a space for argument on complex matters, since the system was designed for people with a short attention span and new messages will flood the old ones away, so people are rushed to speak of new things all the time, while on the Same Sky webboard, some threads that were very popular were talked about for over a year. I may have spoken a lot about the cons, but personally I think this is natural and more a technological change that we have adapt to.”

While a first generation webboard user commented that webboards simulated the real world more in the sense that no matter how much we hate each other, we have to be able to live together. We get to meet a diverse range of people without being filtered by the algorithms of social media. 

“Webboards had many rooms. We argued to the death in a politics room, totally hating each other’s guts, then we went to the lifestyle room and saw another side to this person we hate. Humans have many dimensions. It trained us to be tolerant, argue and not put ourselves above others. People who think differently just simply think differently, that’s it.”

These words were clearly reflected when the webboard shut down. He said that a small group of people who had often argued or talked regularly on the webboard arranged a meeting and went out to eat together. After that they became ‘friends’, even though their political stances remain different.

“You can insult each other, and then it ends. We don’t get angry. Whenever someone’s parents die we go to their funerals. The important thing is people on the webboards may have hated each other, but there was no witch hunt or Section 112 lawsuits. There was none of that.

Oh, except iPad,” the same user said.
Meanwhile another user told us about their own exploits. The webboard was a lot of fun since he used various login names on the webboard and one of them played the role of defending the monarchy, rebutting critics who used reason and data.

“For example, when someone questioned if the King’s assets are personal or belong to the nation, I brought up the relevant legal principles to confirm that they belong to the nation, that it’s public property. But if in the future it is transferred to be His Majesty’s personal property, then it would be good since it would reduce criticisms that the Crown Property Bureau does not have to pay tax like other businesses. When it belongs to His Majesty, tax can be paid to the state. Quite a number of people went along with me. I responded with reason, unlike ultra-royalists who come in and just insult everyone blindly. My intention was that I wanted all the royalists to use reason while talking about the monarchy. The atmosphere was getting lively. Acharn Somsak probably couldn’t stand it and responded to me topic by topic and tried to point out that my logic was not as good as claimed, and even though it looks solid and seems to be reasonable, inside it is hollow, and this kind of person would not be able to bring about any reform of the monarchy. Arguing with Acharn Somsak was fun since we needed to do a lot of research to respond to him, and even then we would still get told off for being spineless.” 

The last webboard user said that after the 2014 coup, he was called to a military camp and an officer brought in documents which were print-outs of what he had posted on the Same Sky webboard. Since the security forces had kept all this, it showed that they had kept their eyes on him for a long time.

“What I had done, if I can turn back the clock, I would probably still do it. I like this one verse from the song Fernando that says; for the country’s liberty, no matter how dangerous to us, no matter how close to death and no matter how afraid we are, if I had to do the same again, I would … For liberty, Fernando.”

Source: 
https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90640

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