Fridays at Noon Lecture Series. Unverifiable: A History of Rumor in Thailand
Tamara Loos, Department of History, Cornell Univeristy
In moments of national peril, the most pernicious rumors relating to the Thai royal family have gained purchase. I explore several of these moments, the content and context of the rumors circulating, and the changing technologies of communication that brought the unverified data to the Thai public. All rumors about royalty and their technologies of distribution have been subject to lese majesté laws: from encoded telegrams and confidential documents in the late 19th century to digital photos, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos in the 21st. Ironically, today this censorship has hampered the government’s ability to gate-keep information and to convincingly establish their authority to distinguish rumor from fact. In other words, not even the Thai military junta can publicly verify facts or falsehoods about the royal family because it would violate les majesté laws, which equally criminalize truth and falsehood. The resulting ambiguity about truth has created a crisis of verification that adds another layer of complexity to the fake news, propaganda, political rumors, and Photoshop technology that has created epistemic vertigo around the globe today.
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