Yingluck Shinawatra

Whistle-blowing phone app proves hit with Thai protestors

70,000 downloads for software that recreates sound of Bangkok anti-government rallies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 1:20pm

For years, protesters in Thailand have used social media to organise rallies. Now they're taking smartphones to a new level.

Apps have been created that allow phones to help protesters perform the high-pitched, raucous noisemaking that is a staple of Thai demonstrations.

More than 70,000 people have downloaded one application that mimics the shrieking sound of a whistle - the symbol of the "whistle-blowing campaign" against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The new app is called "Nok Weed", Thai for whistle, and it lets users choose the colour of their whistle, adjust the volume, then tap the screen to sound it.

According to its creator, the app "doesn't do much and isn't very useful" but it claimed the top spot on Google Play Store's trending list last month within days of its November 4 debut. Most of the downloads for the Thai-language app were in Thailand but 1.2 per cent have come from Egypt, another country fraught with political turmoil.

The app's popularity coincides with the rallies that started six weeks ago, attracting Bangkok's smartphone-carrying upper and middle classes, in a country that is one of the world's biggest users of social media.

Nok Weed's developer, Narit Nakphong, figured there was a new untapped market after demonstrators first took to the streets on October 31.

"I got the idea from seeing protesters blowing whistles. They blew them so much, they got tired. So I created the app," said Narit, an independent developer who says he's working on an update to address the main critique from users. "Most of the criticism is from people saying the volume is too low. I want to make it as loud as possible without breaking the phones' speakers."

The protesters say they're fed up with the Shinawatra family's dominance over Thai politics. They say Yingluck is a proxy for her billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and using his power to enrich his family. Their opposition comes in spite of Thaksin having been repeatedly elected. By contrast, his critics have demonstrated an inability to achieve power within the democratic framework.

Thaksin's avatar has surfaced in an iPhone game called Thai Fight. The game lets users pitch Thaksin or Yingluck against one of 28 opponents, including Thai celebrities or other politicians like opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose Democrat Party is backing the protests.

"Everyone is so stressed out about politics. I wanted to balance the stress with humour," said Supasheep Srijumnong, the game's 30-year-old creator. "I didn't want them to hit each other. But if politicians throw things at each other, that's funny."