Updated: ISOC’s political campaigns

29 02 2020

The regime seems in a pickle regarding “fake news.” Last week, Khaosod reported that the regime’s Anti-Fake News Center at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society declared one of its stories as “fake news” for citing a Facebook post by the Thai Embassy in London.

Later, red-faced officials babbled a bit and finally blamed “procedural errors,” that meant an incorrect rating of the Khaosod story as false. But there was no online correction when the Center’s false fake news post was removed.

Khaosod notes that “critics [have] raised concerns that the center could be weaponized against legitimate news coverage deemed unfavorable by the government.”

This bit of state incompetence or over-zealous policing came as the regime’s broader efforts to manipulate a political advantage from fake news and paid trolls came to light.

Using documents from a parliamentary budget committee, Thai PBS reported that MP Viroj Lakkana-adisorn of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party identified a “network of social media that have been waging a cyber war against critics of the government and the military by spreading fake news and damaging materials against them.”

It was revealed that:

[a]mong human rights activists often targeted by the [network] … are Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former human rights commissioner, and academics critical of the government’s handling of the situation in the region.

This network “includes websites and social media platforms targeting leaders and supporters of the political party and human rights activists in the violence-hit south.” It is taxpayer funded via the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).

ISOC stands accused of hiring dozens of IO operatives:

toiling day and night to sow hatred only to reap 100 baht a day. Pity those soldiers proud of serving their country only to be reduced to the task of trolling, mudslinging, and spreading dark propaganda against their own countrymen….

The trolls are paid – allegedly as little as 100 baht a day, which is a separate labour crime in itself – and are also eligible for a monthly outstanding performance award of 3,000 baht, according to the dossier.

ISOC is claimed to be a “civilian” organization, but this is fake as it is born of and controlled by the military. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is its director  and Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong is deputy director. Its “mission it to suppress threats to national security, defend the monarchy, promote unity, and protect the public from harm…”.

Apparently this now includes lies, fake news, inciting violence and more. In the case cited by Viroj, it also included insinuations that activists “were either sympathetic or associated with the insurgents responsible for unrest … in the south.” He accused ISOC of seeking to “denigrate these people. To sow seeds of hatred…”.

While Viroj’s revelations were about ISOC actions in the south, there can be little doubt that this kind of “Information Operation” (IOs) has been used against all the political opponents of the military junta and its bastard child regime, both led by Gen Prayuth.

The Bangkok Post reported that Gen. Prayuth’s response was to deny “having a policy to use social media against his critics.” He then accused Future Forward of social media attacks upon himself and his regime/s. He vowed to find those responsible for the attacks on himself and his regime/s. And, for good measure, he turned the attack on Viroj for revelations that were a “witch-hunt was causing rifts within society,” and had damaged ISOC’s reputation.

ISOC’s boss

While it is difficult to “damage” ISOC’s reputation as a bunch of political thugs, but we suspect Gen Prayuth has been taking lessons from heroin smuggler and minister Thammanat Prompao on how to divert attention from facts with lies and by attacking messengers.

Gen Prayuth promised an “investigation” that would demonstrate which “political parties are involved…”. Action would be taken against them. Sounds like Thammanat’s threats to sue all and sundry.

ISOC’s response was predictably nonsensical. Yes, the parliamentary documents were correct and, yes, ISOC does conduct IOs. But, ISOC spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng “also dismissed claims the command was given a budget by the government to fund information operations (IOs) in the restive region.”

Yes, “the command did spend some of its budget on IOs — albeit not for waging a ‘cyber war’, but on IOs aimed at countering the spread of fake news.”

Maj Gen Thanathip “said the money cited in the expenditure reports was used to fund public relations activities to correct public misunderstandings about security operations in the southern border areas.” He then went full-on bonkers, claiming it was ISOC that was “ensuring justice and promoting human rights with the ultimate goal of restoring peace in the deep South…”. ISOC and the military it supports is usually associated with murder, torture and enforced disappearances in the south.

The response lacks any logic, but we know that making sense and truth counts for nothing among members of this regime.

Vila Krungkao writing at Thai Enquirer observes:

When IO is funded by the state budget – as documents revealed at the censure debate on Tuesday night showed – it means a serious disabuse of taxpayer’s money and trust. It’s a betrayal of your own citizens. To paint them as enemies of the state for merely having different views, to systematically fire up hostility by pitting one group of Thais against another, is to destroy the last semblance of democracy the government still has left. Simply it’s just one of the worst things they could do to their own people….

Troll army

The government (or the Army, we can’t make a distinction) is throwing fuel into the fire when they resort to black propaganda against their own people and amplifying the conflict with malicious intent. Losing the war on legitimacy, they try to win the virtual war on (fake) approval.

Update: The Bangkok Post has an editorial expressing shock about Viroj’s revelations. It concludes:

Isoc and the army should never be involved in information operations as such campaigns necessitate the kind of political affiliation from which they must remain free. State-sponsored operations that aim to spread hate speech against certain groups of people must not be tolerated.

We are not sure why the Post is shocked or thinks that the military or its evil spawn, ISOC, are apolitical. They should be, but they never have been, and ISOC was created to do damage to opponents of the military and its authoritarianism. And, the hiring of cyber spies and trolls being paid by the state has been announced several times in the period since the 2006 coup.

No one should be surprised that “military officers have been mobilised to post abusive comments using fake social media accounts from 2017-2019 as a means to discredit the government’s opponents.”  That as “many as 1,000 officers stationed in about 40 army units across the country” have been used will not surprise those on the receiving end of Army trolling and threats.


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4 responses

4 03 2020
Stop the state’s anti-opposition campaigns | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] are responding to revelations made in the no-confidence debate in […]

2 04 2020
Asia Sentinel on the king’s failures | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] has also led to some ham-fisted counter claims from mad royalists (probably prompted by the military) claiming the king is actually spending his nights in Bangkok swabbing the streets. Such laughable […]

12 10 2020
Army lies | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] As it so often does, the Army simply denied it had any “information operations.” How thick are these people? It was only in February that official budget documents revealed such information operations. […]

28 12 2020
A junta win | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] measures in place that prevented national election-like “surprises.” Of course, it also used the Army and ISOC to control civilian administration and arranged for the Future Forward Party to be […]

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