Royalists need 112

28 03 2021

New Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakmanusorn said on Friday that he will continue with his predecessor’s policies. That is, his working life will be more or less devoted to track down and censor websites considered to be defaming the monarchy.

For a story that eschews the minister’s spinlessness and offers courage in the face of royalist repression, see the ABC’s “Thailand protest leader Rung could face a lengthy prison sentence for allegedly insulting the King. But she isn’t giving up yet.” Despite facing 112nine lese majeste charges that mean “she could be handed a maximum jail sentence of up to 135 years,” Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul or Rung, has vowed to fight on.

She explains: “I am in this battle, I give it my all, I devote my life,” adding: “Thailand has been changed hugely [by the protest movement] and there is no return … I feel going to jail is worth it…”.

Rung wants Article 112 “revoked entirely.” She said: “There is no need to have this special criminal law separately…. If [the royal family] think they were insulted they should use [civil] defamation law to sue…”.

Of course, royalists like the new minister and some of those cited in the story will be livid, realizing that their whole regime of fear and repression requires 112.





More censorship for monarchy

31 12 2020

COVID spreading? Not as important as the monarchy. Crap economy? Forget about it and “protect” the monarchy.

The Bangkok Post reports the frenzied and angry efforts of the censorious Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta to censor the internet. He wants to sweep it clean of material that reveals the monarch’s notoriety.

Between August and December, Thai internet users have had 5,025 URLs blocked by the minister. He wants 8,440 URLs discussing the monarchy removed.

Buddhipongse proudly declared that some of these URLs were “linked to the social media accounts of … Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul…”.

Buddhipongse new year present is to the king, not the people.





Maintaining the monarchy’s secrets

12 12 2020

As lese majeste charges pile up, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta – one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee men – seems to think that the best way to douse the flames of anti-monarchism is to cut off sources of information.

That’s about what we’d expect from a rightist with a track record of censorship for the monarchy. His last effort was against Pornhub, where Buddhipongse declared “that the decision was not related to a clip featuring an important Thai personality that was posted on the website.” Everyone knew he was talking about the king and his former wife, the latter having been treated loathsomely by the former, and that the clip of her near naked was the reason for the ban.

This month, Buddhipongse is seeking to censor critics of the monarchy and those who provide information on the monarchy that the regime and palace would prefer remained secret.

DES claims to have sent “evidence” to police and to be seeking “legal action against social media platforms that fail to remove URLs deemed inappropriate.” The PDRC minister said “the ministry has asked the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to take action against a total of 496 URLs which violated the Computer Crime Act and security laws between Oct 13 and Dec 4.”

Marshall

Of these, “284 URLs are on Facebook, 81 on YouTube, 130 on Twitter, and the rest on other platforms,” with DES identifying “19 account owners — 15 on Facebook and four on Twitter…”.

The ministry is after “Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who faces 74 court orders to block 120 URLs; Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who faces 50 court orders to block 66 URLs, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who faces 194 court orders to block 439 URLs.” This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Pavin

Um, that’s already 631 URLs…. Something is wrong with the numbers, but let’s just say that the regime reckons these social media activists are lighting the fire under the protesters, so dousing them, they mistakenly think, will put out the anti-monarchism. In a sense, to mix metaphors, the DES and the regime are trying to put the horses back in the barn after thousands of them have bolted.

This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Somsak

The ministry’s public cyber vigilantes are continuing to report anything and everything. Last month alone, these royalist screenwatchers reported, via the “Volunteers Keep an Eye Online” webpage, 11,914 URLs. Of these, even the ministry could only deem 826 of them “illegal” while the pliant courts found 756 were to be blocked. The ministry and police must be inundated with work for the monarchy.

Buddhipongse is furious that the social media platforms don’t follow his orders, with Facebook blocking 98 of the 487 links he wanted blocked. Twitter removed 8 of 81 URLs. YouTube is far more pliant, blocking all 137 links the ministry flagged.

It is deeply concerning that these social media giants take seriously court orders from a judiciary that is a tool of the regime in political cases and on the monarchy’s poor PR. All the same, the information and the monarchy’s secrets are out there, and the regime will not be able to sweep it away.





Army trolls II

29 11 2020

We at PPT can’t help but think that there’s a connection between a Thai PBS report that singer/actress Inthira “Sine” Charoenpura and Pakorn “Hia Bung” Pornchewangkurn have been receiving plenty of highly critical comments on social media, casting doubt on their fund raising for the protester and a military information operation (IO) action recently revealed.

We say there might be a connection because all these “complaints” have led to “[d]onations are flooding into the bank accounts of the two main providers of protest supplies ranging from food to inflatable rubber ducks…”. This is reported as “a sign of ongoing public support for the pro-democracy movement’s actions.”

Yesterday, The Nation reported that “Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul criticised the recent information operation (IO) allegedly conducted by the Army to deal with the pro-democracy online movement.”

In an informative account at the Bangkok Post, it is reported that the Army has issued a “denial.” It is an odd denial because the Army has only “denied using taxpayers’ money to hire a company to conduct an … IO…” and/or hiring “any company to conduct IO,” while admitting that the leaked documents are authentic.

A military spokesperson claimed the leaked “slides were simply a drill for army personnel to learn how to use social media constructively.” How a drill does not use taxpayer money is a mystery.

The slides “show a coordinated process for tweets on the same issue by 17,000-strong personnel, complete with timetables, separation of duties between content creators and users, a division of units into ‘white and grey/black groups’, as well as instructions on how to avoid being banned by Twitter.”

The spokesperson described this as keeping the “armed forces … abreast of technological and platform development,” further explaining: “We regularly hold training and briefings to educate all levels of our personnel so they understand and know how to use social media effectively and appropriately.” Yeah, right.

The documents leaked “show two apps — Twitter Broadcast and Free Messanger — were used to coordinate tweets by 17,562 accounts.”

The Post has more details that show that the military is active in seeking to disrupt its opposition while seeking to circumvent Twitter bans.

Thousands of Army-related trolls are at work.





The regime goes lower II

20 10 2020

Dozens arrested – although it may be a lot more – and with protest rallies continuing, the regime is dipping ever lower into its dictatorial bag of repression tactics and dirty tricks.

As one experienced reporter had it:

Busy day for the Thai Ministry of Censorship [Ministry of Digital Economy and Society]. 300,000 bits of online content deemed threatening to nat[ional] security (monarchy mostly), Telegram app ordered blocked, 4 news organisations threatened with suspension and a publishing house raided. What next?

That’s an excellent question.

There have been some developments over the last 12 or so hours.

The regime has just released some of those held, but not those seen as long-term anti-monarchists. We would expect the released activists to further strengthen the anti-regime protests.

Panupong Jadnok was “detained for 12 days for sedition and altering a historic site.” The sedition charge seems to be a lese majeste charge in disguise and is “related to his participation in the September 19 protest…. The second charge was related to his role in the installing of the 2020 coup memorial plaque in Sanam Luang on September 20.”

But it is the response to repression that is most interesting.

Following the regime’s decision to investigate the Standard, the Reporter, Prachathai, and Voice TV, the editorial board of Thai Enquirer published the following statement:

Journalism is not a crime, censorship is not an option.

That the government of Prayut Chan-ocha would choose to censor free and digital media at a time of national emergency is indicative of the type of government that it actually is. Whether that censorship is in whole or in part, both are unacceptable to a free and fair society.

Instead of dialogue, opening up discussion and press, the government has chosen to embrace its authoritarian roots and censor, shutdown, and intimidate journalists working to present the news.

The government of Prayut Chan-ocha should, instead of censoring the press, read the content of new and digital media to understand the grievances and viewpoints of the people it claims to represent.

The Thai Enquirer calls on the government to rescind the gag order immediately and to engage in dialogue with the press, the opposition and the people.

Even the Bangkok Post seems to have found something resembling a spine, observing:

It seems this government is blind to the fact that truth can no longer be distorted nor narratives crafted by those in the seats of power. Blocked websites can be accessed by alternate means and social media transcends geographical boundaries.

Its efforts at censorship may ultimately be a bigger blight on its reputation than the already disseminated content it futilely hopes to redact.

The Post urges discussions between “student leaders” and the regime. PPT doesn’t think that there’s much point talking with a regime that includes heroin smugglers and corrupt and murderous generals, has engaged in enforced disappearances and a myriad of human rights abuses is worth talking with. It is a regime that came to power via a coup, changed laws to suit itself, came up with a rigged constitution and arranged a rigged election and rigged parliament. Talking with this regime is unlikely to be anything other than a waste of air.





Facebook and the censors

2 08 2020

A couple of days ago we mentioned a report that “Facebook has admitted to an error in its automatic translation, from English to Thai, and has offered a profound apology to the Thai people.” As the error was not detailed, we assumed it involved the monarchy.

Several readers have now told us that the translation for the king’s birthday made it his death day.

But even after Facebook had made its apology, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society sprang into royalist action. It:

sent an urgent letter to Facebook in Singapore and Thailand, demanding the social media giant take responsibility over a mistranslated headline from English into Thai about the live broadcasting ceremony to celebrate the King’s birthday seen on several media Facebook pages on Tuesday.

At lightening speed, the police have begun “collecting evidence for an investigation into the matter following a complaint made by Thai PBS TV station on Wednesday.” Comparisons with the farce of the Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya case. The regime’s priorities are all too evident.

The panicked Thai PBS groveled, contacting ” the Royal Household Bureau, the DES Ministry and various agencies about the incident.”

DES Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s men, “confirmed the letter was sent to Facebook” while “at a meeting with National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) together with internet service providers (ISPs) about efforts to deal with the violations of the Computer Crime Act.”

In other words, the Minister and the regime he serves are more broadly concerned about social media and the monarchy and to declare that the Ministry has been active, “gather[ing] evidence and fil[ing] complaints to the courts, which were asked to issue an order to close websites or delete information which breached the law.”

Buddhipongse said the Ministry had “received complaints about 8,715 URLs. Of them, the courts issued orders for action against 7,164 URLs.” Apparently this is for the first seven months of the year. The Minister added that “YouTube removed 1,507 out of 1,616 URLs [93%] on the court orders from its platform. Facebook took down 1,316 out of 4,676 URLs [28%] as ordered by the court.”

This caused him to criticize and threaten Facebook: “Facebook gave little cooperation although it operates a service in Thailand and Thais generate fruitful benefits to the company…”.

We decided to look at the data. While not yet available for the period the Minister rants about, Google (including YouTube) reports that for the whole of 2019, it received 4,684 requests for removal of specific items from Thai officials. It removed 3,945 or about 84%.

Facebook reports data that is only This report details instances where it has “limited access to content based on local law.” While we can’t find data for the number of requests received, the data do show how blocking has expanded over time (see our first post on this).

As the Thai Enquirer observes, this action coincides with “heightened tensions over the treatment of the Thai monarchy, in recent weeks, with ardent royalists becoming increasingly more active in protecting the [monarchy]… from becoming embroiled or linked with political commentary…”.

It might have added that it coincides with the long absence of the king from the country. As far as we can remember, since early this year, he’s only been in Thailand for a few hours. This has led to considerable muttering.





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.





With two updates: “Law” and repression II

8 10 2019

It gets worse.

Khaosod reports that police on Tuesday (or it may have been Monday evening) arrested Karn Pongpraphapan, 25, a pro-democracy campaigner who they accused of spreading “hatred” toward the monarchy in an online post.

Karn was taken into custody “at his home last night and taken to a police station where he was charged with violating the cybercrime law. Karn now faces up to five years in jail.

As is often the case in the lawlessness associated with rule by law and acts said to involve the monarchy, the “police statement did not specify what Karn wrote, but described it as an ‘inappropriate content on Facebook spreading hatred’ which ‘upset a number of people’ after it was widely shared.”

As usual, Karn is charged under a section of the Computer Crime Act banning content that “pose a threat to national security.”

His lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree denied the charge and said:

the message in question was a public Facebook post Karn wrote on Oct. 2, which asked “How do you want it to end?”

Karn then went on to reference historical events involving past foreign monarchies, such as “shooting like the Russians,” “beheading by guillotine like the French,” and “exiled like the Germans.”

Winyat stressed that “Karn’s writing did not mention the Thai monarchy in any way. He also disputed speculation on social media that Karn was criticizing the recent traffic woes allegedly caused by royal motorcade in Bangkok.” He said: “He was talking about the history of other nations.” He says that it was others who distorted his client’s writing.

The report adds that “[t]he arrest came several days after digital economy minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta announced that the police were on the verge of ‘purging’ anti-monarchy figures on social media.”

It is no coincidence that, at the same time that Karn languished in jail, Minister for Digital Censorship Buddhipongse issued a directive that “cafe and restaurant operators with free wifi service must collect internet traffic data used by their customers up to 90 days, or face punishment.” He “explained” that “officials may need to request for the information under Article 26 of the Computer Crimes Act…”.

It is also no coincidence that this follows that mass outbreak of complaints about the monarchy.

Update 1: Khaosod reports that the watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, wants five people arrested on these (disguised) lese majeste charges of making “inappropriate” online comments about the monarchy.

In an attempt to deflect criticism from the throne, the king has arranged it with the regime that charges other than lese majeste are now used for those considered to have insulted the monarchy. (The regime has also taken to enforced disappearance, torture and murder in dealing with anti-monarchists.)

Prawit babbled “we’ll have to prosecute them, because their wrongdoing involves attacking the monarchy.”

Minister for Digitial Censorship Buddhipongse said Karn was not targeted “for his political beliefs.” He’s fibbing. He invoked rule by law, claiming that Karn’s nighttime arrest was a matter for the courts.

Buddhipongseis an anti-democrat from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee who became a junta spokesman, then a member of the junta’s front party and is now a minister.

(We should add that it was only a couple of weeks ago that Shawn Crispin at Asia Times trumpeted Thailand as being post-authoritarian, erroneously claiming: “Political scores are being aired and contested in the open, not through late-night police state knocks on the door…”. We remain confused how a journalist can whitewash the current regime’s political repression.)

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports that Karn was granted bail late on Tuesday.





GuKult and lampooning monarchy

29 05 2019

A couple of days ago Khaosod had a brief report that mentioned the Facebook page GuKult, perhaps the first time in years it has been covered by mainstream media. GuKult has a considerable social media following. The last time PPT mentioned it was in 2016 when Facebook supported the junta and closed it down for Thailand. GuKult “routinely satirizes the monarchy and other political figures.”

This latest report is of the military detaining and questioning a man at Maeping Police Station in Chiang Mai, believing him responsible for GuKult. However, he was released the same day.

The episode remains shrouded in mystery, but some social media users seemed to feel that the military had taken over the Facebook page.





Facebook and geoblocking for the junta

1 09 2018

The Online Citizen has a post from Andrew MacGregor Marshall titled “Why is Facebook helping dictators?

He begins by noting Facebook’s “public relations campaign to counter accusations that the platform enables dangerous disinformation and hate speech,” and observes that in recent days “Facebook took some of its boldest steps yet to counter misuse of the platform, removing 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages in Myanmar, followed by almost 12 million people. Among those banned was Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces.”

Meanwhile, he notes that Facebook works with Thailand’s dictators: “Facebook continues to pander to dictators by also blocking genuine news about their activities and atrocities. While it continues to do so, Facebook cannot genuinely claim to be promoting truth and cracking down on disinformation.”

In particular, he refers to Facebook having agreed to geoblock a particular video of the soon to be king in Germany. This made it “inaccessible to anyone resident in Thailand. ” Why did Facebook do this? It says that “Thai authorities [the military junta] had produced a court order claiming the video breached the draconian lèse-majesté law — which prohibits any content deemed insulting to the monarchy — and so it was obliged to geoblock the post.”

Marshall continues, saying that “Over the past month, the Thai authorities have escalated aggressive efforts to geoblock content deemed embarrassing to King Vajiralongkorn. Twelve of my Facebook posts have been geoblocked this month alone, and posts by several exiled Thai dissidents have also been affected.”

While 2018 data is not available, Facebook posts on what it calls “Content Restrictions Based on Local Law.” It states this:

When something on Facebook or Instagram is reported to us as violating local law, but doesn’t go against our Community Standards, we may restrict the content’s availability in the country where it is alleged to be illegal. We receive reports from governments and courts, as well from non-government entities such as members of the Facebook community and NGOs….

The recent data for Thailand is in the graph appended here, drawn from the Facebook reports. It seems there’s been a spike since King Vajiralongkorn took the throne.