Referenced over and over again in the search for answers in Bangkok’s Erawan shrine bombing is a Facebook page with more than 570,000 followers.
For more than two years, the Facebook group known as CSI LA has focused on solving crimes in Thailand. The group, managed by David Anantasin, has grown rapidly, and its work is cited by Thai and English media. Prior to the bombing in Bangkok, for example, the group exposed a hit-and-run driver who killed a cyclist.
“We just have this discussion group,” Anantasin, 38, says somewhat bashfully. “I just pose a question. But then my page has a lot of followers so we have people from different occupations. The police do not have this kind of network.”
Since the bombing in mid-August, CSI LA has received a new spotlight and gained thousands of fans in just a few weeks.
One of their first posts on the bombing debated the amount of explosives used and how much damage it could do. The community discusses everything from how the bomb could fit in a backpack to the blast radius of five kilos of TNT.
This, Anantasin says, is what his page is about. It’s an experiment – one he hopes produces more “American-style” consumption of media in Thailand.
“If you have 1,000 brains working together, you have a super computer, and you have the people on the ground who can provide you information.”
Thai police haven’t always been enthusiastic about CSI LA. At one point last year, a police spokesman said his office was considering taking legal action against Anantasin and the page. But it’s become an important source for news organizations around the world. Most posts on the page have hundreds comments, while images posted there are often found on other Thai and international media within a few days of posting. One recent post of a potential suspect was leaked to Anantasin by police on Friday of last week and ended up being referenced by the Associated Press the following Monday after it had made the rounds in Thai media.
Anantasin says he has several sources in the police department, in addition to official communication with Thai Royal Police, but he also gets amateur videos and photos. He also posts news articles he thinks are noteworthy.
Anantasin is far from a mercurial sleuth who lives behind his computer. He prefers to be out and about, managing CSI LA from his cell phone. He’s not even entirely fond of being called a sleuth. He says he doesn’t want to be Sherlock Holmes and “find the guy.” He wants to change the way people respond to media in Thailand and to help the police at the same time. It is the police’s job to catch the bad guy; it’s just that CSI LA is better at processing information than anyone there right now.
“I want the police to accept help from the outside,” he says, whether it’s him or the community at large.
In some cases, that’s worked. Anantasin said in the case of a sex worker who was brutally murdered in Bangkok’s Red Light District, the police officially called him after seeing his posts and asked for help.
Asked if he thinks the police in Thailand are incompetent, he says that incompetent is a “harsh word,” but with international eyes on the police chief should have more media savvy than to hold and impromptu press conference under a giant sign that says “suckers.”
When Anantasin talks about CSI LA, whether he’s calling it his passion or his hobby, his voice speeds up. He is a fast talker to begin with, but there is a literal twinkle in his eye when he speaks about it.
He is fully aware of this.
“I talk faster when I get excited,” he apologizes.
The page began as a few posts when Anantasin was frustrated with portrayals of Thai protesters in 2013. He was sick of the conflicting and biased news. “I could not stand it,” he says.
His personal posts did so well his friends joked that he was something of a CSI out of Los Angeles, but that he shouldn’t use his name with his posts, just in case. Anantasin took the comments to heart (though he doesn’t watch or really like crime dramas) and created CSI LA.
The first big story Anantasin and company worked on was the Koh Tao case in 2014, when two British backpackers were murdered. The case was riddled with issues — from forensics to policework. A verdict is expected for the two Burmese migrants accused of the crime this fall.
His family jewelry business taught him to be on the lookout for potential thieves. His degree from UCLA in international economics, focused on east Asian studies was about his love of information and politics. His new master’s degree in predictive analytics from Northwestern makes every piece of information, every story he reads, a different data point.
“For me at this point it’s not about fame or anything,” he says. “Even if I have 100,000 likes, I don’t care. You have to find the pattern.”
That search for the pattern, the clues, is a core part of Anantasin. “In the jewelry business, my job is to make sure people don’t steal,” he says. “I have to think like a thief all the time.”
His family, from his wife to his six siblings in Thailand, have no idea what he is doing.
“They don’t even know, they don’t care. They don’t know what I do.”
Anantasin is also very involved in the Rotary of Monterey Park, which has a large Thai-American membership. The Rotary has shown him that doing what you love, and what gives back, matters.
“What can I do, you want to sit down and cry? Or you want to help the police catch the bad guy?” he asks. “I follow my passion so it doesn’t look like a job for me. When you love what you do, you don’t feel tired.”