July 10, 2018 / 2:06 PM / 13 days ago

Messages, sketches and hashtags: Thai cave rescue dominates social media

LONDON (Reuters) - Audiences around the world cheered the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand with messages of support as the saga generated suggestions of help, prayers and — finally — expressions of relief.

The last helicopter from Tham Luang cave lands at a military airport in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

People turned to television, news sites and social media to keep up with the fate of the “Wild Boar” soccer team that went missing while exploring the cave in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand on June 23.

A Google search on Tuesday for the words “Thai cave rescue” revealed 359,000,000 results, with interest peaking since last week when British divers found the boys and the rescue mission began.

“Miracles may happen every day but this is one for the ages,” said Cornell Brooks, chief executive of the NAACP civil rights group in the United States.

With international journalists stationed outside the cave, television stations have carried updates and the story has ranked highly in terms of the most read or viewed items on sites such as Britain’s BBC and NBC News.

On social media, live Facebook videos from the reporters and volunteers on the ground have been popular.

On Twitter and Instagram, well-wishers sent messages of support, advice and sketches of the boys in the cave using hashtags such as #Thaicaverescue #boarteam #Thainavyseals #PrayForThaiBoys and #Bringtheboarteambackhome.

A Thai navy SEAL Facebook post confirming all 13 had been rescued on Tuesday had more than 200,000 likes and around 56,000 shares in the space of an hour, sparking comments such as: “You are ALL HEROES! Thank you on behalf of a grateful world!” and “On behalf of all mothers I thank you”.

On Twitter there were 160,000 tweets containing “All 12”.

Footballers and soccer clubs also welcomed the news, posting messages on Twitter as well as invitations to the boys.

Manchester United invited the team and their rescuers to Old Trafford while Portugal’s Benfica club invited them to spend a week at their training camp near Lisbon. Manchester City and England defender Kyle Walker asked on Twitter for an address to send the boys shirts.

FIFA invited the team to attend the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday but the team cannot be there for medical reasons, world soccer’s governing body FIFA said on Tuesday.

Reaction to the news dominated social media in the United States with the term “All 12” the top trending topic on Twitter. It even eclipsed reaction to the news of U.S.  President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, which was the eighth-ranked topic.

The rescue operation was not a major trending topic on social media in China, where interest in an accident involving a boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists off the Thai resort island of Phuket claiming at least 44 lives generated far more interest.

On the Twitter-like Sina Weibo site, the hashtag “Thai boys football team rescued” ranked 39th on Tuesday night in China.

On Monday on WeChat, the boat sinking generated roughly 10 times the interest of the cave drama, while on Tuesday the cave rescue operation did not rate in the index on the Baidu search engine.

Reporting By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Hazel Baker; Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Pei Li in Beijing and Andrei Khalip in Lisbon; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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