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A Drop in the Ocean: Rippling Waves of Impact for Digital Rights in Thailand

Digital Rights Lab Workshop
Thai Tech Tales Youth filmmakers join Chonburi School students and faculty for a group photo after an impactful activity.

Guest post by Aly Suico

Freelance video producer, documentary filmmaker, and TV host Weeraya “Min” Vichayaprasertkul has spent half a decade working on documentaries and online media content tackling the environment, education, and social movements. She served as a film mentor for Internews’ Earth Journalism Network grantees. 

In 2023, Min was chosen to be part of EngageMedia’s Tech Tales Youth film collection and mentorship program. She produced and directed the short film Digital Rights Lab. Here, Min discusses her transition into impact production, especially with a topic new to her and to most of the youth in Thailand.

On producing impact with a new advocacy

Creating documentaries has been Min’s chosen medium of expression and advocacy. Through various clips of her as a TV host and behind-the-scenes footage with her crew, Min begins her short film by introducing herself as someone who travels throughout Thailand and the world to tell other people’s stories. She breaks this instantly in the premise of her short film Digital Rights Lab, where her personal journey gets the spotlight this time around.

In storytelling, the advice generously given to most writers and creatives is to start with what’s most personal, which will usually have the most impact. Similarly, in advocacy work, the best way to get a message to stick to an audience is to reach them at the gut level, with something that hits closest to home. Digital Rights Lab takes Min’s experience with call center gangs under the microscope, essentially treating the film like a lab where she puts her own experience to the test to prove a point about digital safety and security. The film exposes how call center gangs and scammers engage in their cyber crimes. Digital Rights Lab documents each step, providing viewers with an opportunity to relate to the story, linking a personal experience to a collective problem.

On finding impact that lasts

Poster of the Tech Tales Youth film Digital RIghts Lab

Min has observed the rising number of incidents involving call center gangs and scammers constantly harassing mobile users, yet digital rights advocacy in Thailand hasn’t been able to keep up. Many Thai citizens have lost large sums of money to cyber criminals due to data breaches and the undisclosed purchase of personal data by large companies. Min explained that advocating for digital rights is quite tough because it’s a new issue in Thailand, and there isn’t a clear legal definition in Thai. Explaining to partners what digital rights mean is the first big challenge. 

This alone inspired Min to pivot into a new advocacy on digital rights and, more importantly, redirect her artistic craft into one that tackles a specific social issue.

Films, especially short form and online content, have taken on a bigger role in recent years. Accessibility to video production has generated more audio-visual content today, amplified further through new social media platforms connecting more people to billions worldwide. Possibly because of this illusion of genuine connection through social media, Min reflected that it was enough for her to believe that online views were enough for impactful change to come about so easily.

However, there is no assurance that simply relying on views would be enough to raise awareness, let alone change perspectives and behaviours. This leaves out a crucial ingredient to making impact work: direct collaboration with communities and collectively building campaigns to challenge the issue at hand. For Min, she realised that posting online and leaving it to the platforms is only one small part of a larger strategy, and working collaboratively with relevant partners is crucial if she truly desires her film to make an impact. 

Digital Rights Lab Director Min facilitates a discussion with students from Chonburi School. On her right is fellow Tech Tales Youth filmmaker Patipat, who led the workshop's cinematography session.

On creating the impact

Thailand is positioning Chonburi province as a key economic area in Thailand’s Economic Corridor (EEC), spotlighting it as a Digital and Innovation Platform. It struck Min that despite the government’s substantial investment to position Chonburi as a digital industry leader, there is a significant gap in digital skills among the local population. Min observed that the residents’ digital literacy is low, and the workforce lacks the necessary skills for the digital era. In pursuing advancing technologies, the challenge of preparing and empowering the local population to use these technologies remains. Absent these preparations, communities are left more vulnerable to being taken advantage.

Min’s impact campaign started with this important context in mind. She doubled the impact she already had through her film by partnering with an educational institution as well as her immediate film network. Using Digital Rights Lab, Min held a film and rights workshop at Chonradsadornumrung School in Chonburi Province, where she was once a student years ago. 

With social impact films, the usual obstacle is to be met with hesitation when screening social issue films in communities. It wasn’t any different for Min as her school worried about being too political. Min eased these concerns by showing them how to approach political issues like digital rights through films and filmmaking. 

Min opened the workshop by asking around 85 students between Grades 7 to 12 what digital rights meant. She was met with silence and honest admissions from a handful of students that they didn’t know. These moments indicated a perfect opportunity for social impact films to take center stage. 

After screening Digital Rights Lab, Min witnessed a clear milestone toward reaching her impact objectives in raising awareness about digital rights among the youth. She recognised that digital rights is a topic that is very close to everyone, even if Thai youth aren’t able to acknowledge it yet. Even human rights allies can struggle to understand this relatively new advocacy to collaborate effectively. A breakthrough in Min’s impact campaign is seeing firsthand how new advocacies can be easily taught through creative presentations exemplifying how the issue relates to people’s daily lives and how it intersects with many human rights advocacies.

Students shoot a scene for the digital rights video workshop.
Digital Rights Lab Impact
Students make final touches to their video projects before the presentation.

With younger students, Min shared that watching films and giving them hands-on experience in filmmaking was highly effective in enhancing their understanding of digital rights. At the end of the workshop, Min helped the students produce seven short films covering topics such as digital footprint, online copyright infringement, cyberbullying, online sexual harassment, fake news, digital time management, and personal data security. The students posted their films on their own social media platforms with the captions #Digitalrightslab and #TechTalesYouth. By the end of the workshop, the students had a better understanding of their digital rights, while gaining skills in filmmaking at the same time.

The workshop was also a platform for Min to ally with creative partners by using their expertise in filmmaking to further digital rights advocacy. The workshop provided an opportunity for her creative partners to try their hand at teaching a workshop for the first time. Patipat Oakkharhaphunrat instructed students on the technical aspects of cinematography and storytelling, while Thanakorn ‘Meen’ Yangmeesuk taught editing techniques.

Similarly, Min was invited by ThaiPBS, an online podcasting platform, to discuss her film and advocacy. Min’s impact campaign reflected her approach to Digital Rights Lab by going with what’s most personal. She approached community building at the grassroots level in her old school and immediately involved the community in her own personal networks: the media and fellow filmmakers.

Students proudly share their impactful videos on social media after participating in the digital rights video workshop.

On dropping larger stones for bigger ripples

Min’s impact journey left her with experiences and reflections that she hopes are just the start in the growing space for digital rights advocacy in Thailand. She plans to expand her impact distribution by including the whole Tech Tales Youth set of films and reaching out to local partners in various communities across the North, Northeast, and South regions of Thailand. Min looks forward to seeing the impact in the different provincial communities of Thailand and having more opportunities to showcase films from Tech Tales Youth.

 

Min recommends going through the DQ Digital Intelligence handbook created by the Child and Youth Media Institute for anyone wanting to get started in digital rights advocacy in Thailand. With what began as a simple impact campaign plan, Min has begun the path towards more conversations, more collaborations, and more campaigns to address digital rights in Thailand.