The US Embassy in Thailand today demonstrated how important social media is for its communications when it used its Twitter account and Facebook Page to get word of a terrorist threat in Bangkok out in the country.
The message was posted to the embassy’s website warning US citizens, and others, to “maintain a heightened awareness when out in public”:
This message alerts U.S. citizens in Thailand that foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future. U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather in Bangkok.
Social media is a quick and effective method of reaching large audiences — the embassy has 39,500 Twitter followers and close to 30,000 Facebook fans — but it also used SMS and email alerts to get the message out. However, it was the tweets that attracted the most attention with a number of Twitter users initially sceptical of the message or seeking further information.
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney spent time responding to many of the incoming replies that she received to emphasise the alert, which was made as a local announcement with no statement issued from Washington.
@jenny44indy message is for real. Please read it carefully and consider the information as you plan your activities.
— Kristie Kenney (@KristieKenney) January 13, 2012
Social media is hugely popular in Thailand, as was demonstrated during last year’s floods when Facebook and Twitter played an important role broadcasting news and connecting people. Impressively for a country with a language that is barely spoken outside of its 69 million population, Thai accounts for one percent of global tweets, according to a recent study.
Kenney enjoys a high profile on Twitter but her administration has faced criticism for using the medium too. While social media has opened the embassy’s opportunities to connect with US citizens, Thai Royalists were unhappy that the ambassador discussed Thailand’s sensitive freedom of expression issues — such as a law that makes liking certain content on Facebook ill-advised — on an open chat on Twitter last month.