Targeting Facebook on anti-monarchism

5 07 2021

About three weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.” We assume he got his orders from higher up because the DES immediately ordered dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours. Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling or pornography sites. But the real target anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Three weeks later and not much has happened apart from the regime getting ever more twitchy, again suggesting that there’s very high-level pressure on them.Facebook-Dislike-Button

As Thai PBS has reported, the regime has resumed its battle with Facebook, over the content it still deceptively claims is “fake news” when they mean sites that provide information about the monarchy:

These accounts – all operated from overseas – are registered to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, his discussion page Royalist Marketplace – Talad Luang, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Suda Rangkupan, Pixel Helper, DK Ning, Aum Neko, and Kon Thai UK. Several of the account owners are wanted in Thailand for lese majeste.

Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is flustered, saying: “Despite negotiations, Facebook has refused to follow orders to block eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”.

He demanded that Facebook “show responsibility towards Thailand’s issues and comply with the country’s regulations, given the fact that Facebook has many users in the Kingdom.”

There’s two things to note here. First, the minister demands that the whole of Facebook follow royalist norms and the regime’s illegitimate use of draconian laws. In other words, he seems to be going beyond the usual demand for geo-blocking of popular anti-monarchy  sites. Second, he seems to be threatening Facebook with exclusion from the Thai market, which would require that the regime descend further down the Chinese road and come up with state-approved, state monitored social media platforms.





Facebook and monarchy panic

25 06 2021

About two weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.”

DES sprang into action, ordering dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours.Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling sites and more significantly, anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Two weeks later and not much has happened.

Now DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn “has threatened legal action against Facebook for refusing to close the accounts of users deemed to have disseminated fake news and criticised the monarchy.”

Most of the sites he’s worried about are anti-regime and anti-monarchy.

The regime’s latest tactic in shutting down anti-monarchy sites is to have local courts – fake courts? – rule them illegal. This then permits a “legal” censorship, with DES sending demand “letters to the internet service providers and Facebook in Thailand to make them comply.”

The big concern is for social media accounts that spoof and report on the monarchy: those associated with Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, which have yet to be shut.

Minister Chaiwut lamented: “Despite the negotiations, Facebook has still refused to follow orders to shut down eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”. He seemed to threaten Facebook’s existence in Thailand: “As there are many users in Thailand, Facebook must also be responsible for the country’s issues, as well as comply with Thai regulations…”.

Watch this space.





ARTICLE 19 on deepening censorship

18 06 2021

We reproduce a recent ARTICLE 19 statement:

Thailand: Proposed initiatives to combat ‘fake news’ undermine freedom of expression

Proposed government initiatives to address ‘fake news’ would further curtail digital rights and freedom of expression in Thailand, said ARTICLE 19. In recent weeks, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has disclosed plans, including new regulations under the Computer Crimes Act, that would tighten governmental control over social media platforms and impose additional barriers to online expression. The Ministry should abandon these efforts in favour of an approach that respects the human rights of social media users and others expressing controversial or critical opinions.

“Official actions to combat ‘fake news’ are often less about preventing online harms than expanding State control over the internet,” said Matthew Bugher, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme. “While we have not yet seen the proposed new regulations, recent actions and statements by government officials are cause for alarm.”

On 20 May 2021, MDES announced plans to update ministerial regulations under the Computer Crimes Act to address the dissemination of false information. The Ministry expects to complete a draft of the new regulations later this month.

The announcement by MDES comes amid a number of government actions ostensibly aimed at combatting ‘fake news’. On 14 May 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the Anti-Fake News Centre to intensify its efforts to combat ‘fake news’. On 18 May Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an executive order establishing the Committee on Suppression and Correction of Dissemination of False Information on Social Media. On 27 May, Chaiwut Thanakmanusorn, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, established three new sub-committees: one for the supervision of social media, one for enhancing law enforcement measures to prevent and solve problems on social media, and one for drafting ministerial regulations under the Computer Crimes Act. And on 8 June, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence assigned the Council of State to review Thai and foreign laws, with a focus on regulating social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Officials were specifically instructed to review Indian legislation, a concerning development in light of recent measures taken there that violate free expression and privacy rights.

While neither MDES nor other government bodies have provided much information about the proposed regulations under the Computer Crimes Act, statements by Chaiwut have offered clues about what to expect. He announced the new regulations using language concerning the collection of network traffic data. Late last month, Chaiwut stated that the Ministry may require social media accounts to be registered with true names and ID information. He further mulled the possibility of requiring social media companies to establish offices in Thailand.

Moreover, recent actions by Thai authorities give an indication of what to expect from the increased focus on ‘fake news’. On 2 June 2021, a court ordered Facebook and internet service providers to block or remove eight Facebook accounts for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’. These include the accounts of political commentator in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun and the Royalist Markeplace group he founded—both likewise targeted last year under the Computer Crimes Act and the subject of a legal complaint against Facebook—as well as the account of journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. These accounts are notable for featuring critical commentary on government officials and the Thai monarchy.

The proposed new regulations would add to a number of existing mechanisms to monitor and punish vaguely defined ‘fake news’. In 2019, Thailand established the ‘Anti-Fake News Centre’ and in 2020 the Technology Crime Suppression Police Bureau was set up to monitor cybercrime, including ‘fake news’. Thailand employs a number of hybrid measures to combat ‘fake news’ that rely on artificial intelligence and human analysts to monitor social media activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms. Thailand’s application of these methods to target social media users has come under criticism by human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Rather than addressing these criticisms, the proposed changes raise fresh concerns.

In light of other measures to collect and track personal data, MDES’s suggestion of the need to collect additional network traffic data raises concerns over the risk of interference with the right to privacy. Thailand already requires SIM cards to be registered with national IDs or passports. Beginning last year, Thailand also rolled out a facial recognition system tied to SIM card registration in the southern border provinces, which disproportionately targets ethnic Malay Muslims who are already subjected to other biometric data collection. While it is unclear how Thailand will force telecommunications and internet service providers to collect and hand over user data under the new regulations, adding data retention and handover requirements enhances government capacity for surveillance and risks stifling expression.

MDES’s suggestion that it would like to see social media companies establish offices in Thailand is worrying. ARTICLE 19 has previously raised concerns over domestic incorporation requirements, which put local staff members at risk and give governments greater leverage over social media platforms.

It is unclear exactly how real-name registration requirements for online activity could be implemented in practice, but MDES has reportedly acknowledged it would seek cooperation from social media platforms and related online services. However, this also raises questions about the risk of penalties should such platforms refuse to comply with government demands that do not comply with international standards.

In a 2017 Joint Declaration, four special mandate holders on the freedom of expression noted, ‘general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including ‘false news’ or ‘non-objective information’, are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression’ and found that they ‘should be abolished’.

In a 2013 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression held that ‘real name registration requirements allow authorities to more easily identify online commentators or tie mobile use to specific individuals, eradicating anonymous expression’. And in 2015, the Special Rapporteur added that ‘privacy interferences that limit the exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression…must not in any event interfere with the right to hold opinions, and those that limit the freedom of expression must be provide by law and necessary and proportionate’. The categorical denial of anonymity online risks infringing on the ability of social media users to hold and form opinions and engage in free expression.

In light of these concerns, MDES should abandon plans to introduce additional restrictions on internet freedom under the Computer Crimes Act and should instead amend the law so that it complies with international human rights standards.

“Misinformation is a real problem and Thai officials are right to be concerned,” said Bugher. “However, policy measures that rely heavily on censorship, surveillance, and criminal sanction shut down public discourse, contributing to the mistrust and secrecy that feed misinformation. The Thai government should instead focus on transparency, the dissemination of accurate information, and creating an enabling environment for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”





Updated: The anti-monarchy virus

5 06 2021

Seemingly worried that the nation lacks herd immunity, the royalist regime is increasing its efforts to prevent infection by the anti-monarchy virus. The latest effort involves enlisting the royalist courts to ban eight social media pages.

The Ministry  of Digital Economy and Society which only seems to work on banning free expression and thought, has had the courts order these pages closed “because their content allegedly violates the Computer Crime Act.” We assume it is not “alleged” as they have been banned.

The Ministry “announced that the Facebook pages of Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Royalist Marketplace, Suda Rangkupan, ป้าหนิง DK, Aum Neko, KTUK and Pixel HELPER will be removed.” The Nation report says “[t]hese pages carried politics-related content and were critical of the Thai government.”

This is not entirely accurate. They have been banned for their anti-monarchy content.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Ministry describes these sites as having “posted fake news…”. Some might suggest that these sites do sometimes post rumors and guesses about the monarchy. But that reflects the medieval secrecy associated with a monarchy that gulps taxpayer funds, regularly intervenes in politics, has an unsavory reputation, and has a nasty, symbiotic relationship with the military.

Thai PBS gets the reason for the ban right, adding that the Ministry “summoned internet providers to acknowledge a court order to block or delete eight Facebook accounts, groups and fan pages, known for their criticism of the Thai monarchy.”

The court order apparently also applies to “[a]ny new or other accounts related to the same users, providing similar content…”.

This is one step in a process of getting Facebook to take down these pages. In an increasing ly authoritarian capitalist world, it seems likely that Facebook will fold. In seeking to enforce royalist silence on the monarchy, a “working committee has also been set up to pressure platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to ban accounts which feature content which violates Thai laws…”. You see the issue here. A mad or medieval regime can have all kinds of regressive laws and thus pressure the huge internet businesses.

In Thailand, the Ministry announces that it “…

© Shutterstock

now gives importance to prosecuting violators to the fullest extent of the law…”. The court order requires ISPs “to remove or block information posted by the individuals on websites and social networks, along with their passwords and IP addresses, from their computer systems.”

The Bangkok Post story cites Sunai Pasuk of Human Rights Watch, who “called the court order a censorship order instructing Facebook to ban critics of the monarchy. That will put a chokehold on people’s ability to express themselves as well as on the social media platform’s open space…”.

The royalist regime believes such a chokehold will prevent the anti-monarchy virus from spreading further.

Update: Prachatai reports:

On 2 June, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn invited Internet Service Providers to acknowledge a court order to restrict access to or delete computer data of 8 allegedly illegal users on Facebook within 24 hours. Four days on, the pages of the targets remain accessible.





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.