Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Police may have spoken their last word on the Koh Tao murder investigation, but sceptics and amateur detectives still have plenty to say online.

Even as national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang said Tuesday's press conference on the investigation into the deaths of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller would be the last, the "likes" kept piling up on a Facebook page carrying the confusing name of "CSI LA", the title of the American television showCSI: Los Angeles, and the logo of TV series Breaking Bad.

A photo illustration of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, suspects in the murders of two British backpackers on Koh Tao, against the backdrop of the “CSI LA” Facebook page which has spent the past three weeks documenting the police investigation. (Photo illustration by Bob James)
The Thai-language page - where "CSI" apparently stands for "critical thinking", "sceptics" and "investigation" - soared from a few thousand fans to 267,684 as of 4pm Wednesday. On it, crime-scene-investigator wannabees upload photos, dissect conflicting media reports and while away the hours trying to poke holes in the Royal Thai Police's case.
Admittedly, it hasn't been that difficult.
The investigation has been riddled from Day One with false starts, "suspects" named and then cleared, and other missteps that led media outlets both inside and outside Thailand to label the probe as "bungled". So while police claim to have solid forensic evidence and confessions, tens of thousands of people continue to claim the Myanmar suspects were scapegoats for the real killers. A petition on for an independent evaluation of the evidence had attracted more than 45,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
On the CSI LA page, amateur super-sleuths have tried to prove the Myanmar men are innocent by posting annotated and copyrighted photos of the crime scene - including some poor-taste, graphic scenes of the young couple's bodies - along with closed-circuit television captures, rumours and conflicting media reports from early days of the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar embassy-appointed lawyer for the two men - identified by the Democratic Voice of Burmawebsite as Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun - have told two different media outlets that the suspects confessed to him that they killed the pair - albeit unintentionally and while drunk.
''My job is to find out the truth,'' the creator of the CSI LA page told the Bangkok Post Wednesday without disclosing his name. "I set up this page because my friends were always sharing information that was either groundless or not true at all."
One thing the page been successful at is annoying police. Pol Gen Somyot called out CSI LA by name when he blamed social media in general for diverting police resources from finding Witheridge and Miller's killers.
He said saying police were forced to respond to demands to investigate Koh Tao's influential "mafia" figures. Valuable time, he said, was wasted on responding to "misunderstandings" on social media that, if ignored, would have made police look guilty of a cover-up.
The police chief said Tuesday authorities were through worrying about CSI LA.
Mana Treeyalapewat, an academic at University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the popularity of the Facebook page was mainly due to the "unclear" information provided by investigators. Public doubt about the evidence is driving the page's popularity, said the academic, who monitors social media.
Mr Mana said that the information provided and the evidence were conflicting and the public is challenging police to explain the discrepancies.
However, he warned, Facebook users "should carefully use their judgement instead of jumping to the conclusion that everything they read is true". 
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