11 July 2024

The Japanese say everyone has three faces. The first is put on for the world, the one you wear while in office, at party, on public transport, at lunch with clients or on political rally stages. The second is for friends and family. The third, the truest, is never shown to anyone but yourself.

Obviously, the first is the most dishonest oneCurrently, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LINE, Facebook and etc have added to the category, and the Japanese wisdom as a whole.

That is why it is potentially dangerous for a legal suspect to be turned into some kind of online celebrity while his or her case is still pending. It is true that when evidence is questionable and injustice looms, social media can lend a helping hand, but it is also true that their involvement can work both ways.

In the case of Chaiyaphol Wipa, better known as “Loong (Uncle) Phol”, the suspect in the death of a three-year-old girl in Mukdahan, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong as far as the social media are concerned. Before the 44-year-old man was formally charged and put into police custody days ago, he and his wife became singers and their well-produced music videos recorded millions of views on YouTube. “Fan Club” members hounded the couple. “Admins” of online accounts, big and small, live around his house in resort-style huts that sprouted up like mushrooms in the area.

It cannot be said that Loong Phol and his wife did not enjoy the spotlight. Their fan club either descended on the neighborhood in tour buses or sent them gifts or food. “I went to his house with a truckload of fruits and they sold out in one day,” a vendor from another area described the frenzy at his place. She decided to stay put and join other “campers”. The man’s dog, Nicky, had to be called “Khun (Mr) Nicky”.

Loong Phol-related donations drew large amounts of cash. Monks and superstitious construction disguised as religious undertaking were involved. The campers played politics against one another and a few squabbles could be traced to influential members of his fan club. Those leaving, or wanting to leave, or crossing the powerful ones closest to him were labelled “traitors”.

Variety entertainment programmes picked Loong Phol content up, including information for or against his case. From an unknown man, he became someone whose pictures of any kind brought about thousands of “Likes”. High-profile people commented publicly on whether they believed his story or not.

The craze is dying down, particularly after Loong Phol was charged in connection with the death of “Nong Chompoo”. The tide is turning regarding social media comments. Those who have frowned upon the recent Loong Phol mania are having their days although he remains innocent until proven otherwise in the court of law.

The original case was simple enough. NongChompoo disappeared on May 11 last year. Three days later, her body was found naked, up on a hill several kilometres from her house. Loong Phol, her uncle-in-law, became a suspect but somehow, due in no small part to his interviews, her parents were viewed with suspicion, too. The two families were torn apart although Loong Phol is married to her mother’s sister.

Simple it was, but not any more. Some fan club members have retreated, but a considerable number of others are drumming up a police conspiracy. Politics at the national level is lurking. The police chief has stuck his neck out, virtually putting pressure on authoritative Loong Phol accusers who have to be proven right.

Are social media helping an innocent man, or disrupting a justice process and thus denying NongChompoo what the girl truly deserved? If it’s the latter, it’s such a big shame. If it’s the former, it’s not supposed to be like this.

By Tulsathit Taptim