Updated: Bans and banalities

26 07 2019

Many readers will have seen that Facebook has “removed multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.”

“Coordinated inauthentic behavior” is defined by Facebook here. Note that the action is not necessarily because posts are “fake news.” It is that they are deceptive about their identity and who they work with and for or by hiding where they operate. Another source explains “coordinated inauthentic behavior” as involving multiple account purporting to be unrelated acting in tandem. This behavior uses sock puppets to create the impression that information is coming from multiple independent sources.

Not everyone is comfortable with Facebook’s actions, not least because many of those removed have links with countries the current US administration defines as “enemy” states (Iran, Russia, etc.).

The Thailand details are explained by Facebook:

We removed 12 Facebook accounts and 10 Facebook Pages for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Thailand and focused primarily on Thailand and the US. The people behind this small network used fake accounts to create fictitious personas and run Pages, increase engagement, disseminate content, and also to drive people to off-platform blogs posing as news outlets. They also frequently shared divisive narratives and comments on topics including Thai politics, geopolitical issues like US-China relations, protests in Hong Kong, and criticism of democracy activists in Thailand. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that some of this activity was linked to an individual based in Thailand associated with New Eastern Outlook, a Russian government-funded journal based in Moscow.

    • Presence on Facebook: 12 accounts and 10 Pages.
    • Followers: About 38,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages.
    • Advertising: Less than $18,000 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in US dollars.

We identified these accounts through an internal investigation into suspected Thailand-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Our investigation benefited from information shared by local civil society organizations.

For many readers, the examples provided of Land Destroyer, New Eastern Outlook, The Local Revolution and The New Atlas are well-known as purveyors of the work of the pseudonymous Tony Cartalucci. Examples of his anti-democratic paeans to yellow shirts can be seen at Land Destroyer blog. At times in the past, “Tony Cartalucci” was boostering for the likes of Alex Jones, Iran and China, before landing with Russian-funded groups.

Some time ago we noted the remarkable influence “Tony Cartalucci” had had within Thailand’s extreme right and, more significantly, on ultra-royalists:

Thailand’s military junta is composed of royalist rightists who have faithfully imbibed palace propaganda for years. In more recent times, as the military supported and egged on anti-democrat and royalist protesters, these military rightists have accepted a nastier propaganda that combines extreme right and extreme left elements, cobbled together with conspiracy theory….

We noted that (links not updated):

Thailand’s official propaganda agency is now citing the a yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche.

Back in 2013 we posted on the links that “Tony Cartalucci” had with the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Former “leftists” associated with PAD and the Democrat Party religiously sent “Tony Cartalucci” posts on to PAD networks that included royals, royalists and politicians. The conspiracies peddled caught on among these anti-democrats.

The Bangkok Post, which has previously had op-eds that trotted out “Tony Cartalucci”-like material, states:

According to a 2014 Asian Correspondent article, Tony Cartalucci is believed to be a pseudonym made up by Michael Pirsch, who in an abbreviated biography on the website Truthout.com, describes himself as a former “union activist and union organizer for more than 25 years and a DJ on Berkeley Liberation Radio, a pirate radio station” who now lives “as an economic refugee from the United States in Thailand.”

Having said all of that, we are PPT are not enthused by efforts to silence critics, even if they are mad right-wing conspiracy theorists. But, then, it is only Facebook and Twitter where this has occurred and all the parent pages – mostly blogs and “news” sites – continue to pump out the drivel. For obvious reasons, we think the notion that “fictitious” identities is a reasonable reason for declaring “coordinated inauthentic behavior” is dubious and dangerous. Anonymity and the use of pen names has been common for centuries.

And restricting the drivel from an expatriate, former leftist, now monarchist and rightist American means little in Thailand where conspiracy theory has run rampant in recent years. Most of the nutters who get oxygen seem to be those who make use of the monarchy in political battles.

The most recent example is the banal conspiracy claims by Natthaporn Toprayoon, “a lawyer and former adviser to chief Ombudsman, [who] accused the FFP [Future Forward Party] of being a threat to the constitutional monarchy, which plays a fundamental part in Thailand’s political system.” He has made several accusations, including that Future Forward’s “logo — an upside-down triangle — is reversed, it bears a close resemblance to the Illuminati’s triangle sign.” He has “claimed that the Illuminati was behind efforts to overthrow monarchies in Europe and that it also played a role in the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.”

How bizarre.

Update 1: Natthaporn has claimed that:

that remarks made by several key FFP members discouraging the act of prostrating oneself to pay respects, pouring scorn on “Thai smiles”, and trying to end the patronage of all religions in the country were in line with Illuminati thinking as well as those of the Nitirat group of progressive-minded law scholars.

He seems misguided at best but seems more like a nutter. The Thaiger describes him as having “gone ‘full woo woo’,” which is a polite way of describing a looney. But the seriously nutty are sometimes taken seriously when their “ideas,” plots and conspiracies match the political aims of the powerful in Thailand.

The idea that “the orange triangular logo used by Future Forward, if turned upside down, closely resembles the symbol used for the Illuminati” is seriously deranged. If there was any “truth” in the claim, then he’d have to also include Google Drive, Google Play, several banks, Alcatel, Kenwood, Delta and Qantas airlines, Caterpillar, Hyundai Engineering, Le Coq Sportif,  CITGO, Aston University, Mitsubishi and more.

You get the picture. Nattahaporn has been imbibing far too much mind-altering kool-aid.

But there’s a link to “Tony Cartalucci”-like ramblings. As can be seen in the nuttier conspiracy theorists that span extreme left gone extreme right, the so-called Illuminati are today associated with “World Government” or a “New World Order” that infiltrates a lot of American-originated rightist propaganda like the “work” or Alex Jones and a range of Tea Party, Neo-fascist, anti-Semitic ideologues. “Tony Cartalucci” has been there.

Update 2: New Eastern Outlook has been quick to defend “Tony Cartalucci.” We suspect that it is “Tony Cartalucci” who wrote the post.





Color coding royal pardons?

4 05 2019

As is usual around supposedly auspicious royal events, “pardons” – a kind of amnesty – have been granted to prisoners and others serving sentences. They include commuted jail terms for serious offenses.

The latest, for the coronation, includes some interesting “pardons.”

Five leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy will be released. They were only convicted a few weeks ago. They are: Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang, Pipop Dhongchai, Somkiat Pongpaibul, Somsak Kosaisuk, and Suriyasai Katasila. Sondhi Limthongkul’s position remains unclear, although he may have benefited by having his fraud sentence reduced.

Interestingly, PAD seem to have designed the kit for the king’s royal volunteer “army.”

What of red shirts serving sentences? We haven’t seen any news yet.

Anti-junta critic, sentenced on lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai report, student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai, has benefited, but not by much. He was due to be released on 19 June.

We might be missing something, but it might be that royal pardons are now color coded.





Updated: Media self-censorship

24 04 2019

It is well-known that self-censorship is an absolute must for mainstream media in Thailand when reporting anything related to the monarchy and royals.

So it is that both The Nation and the Bangkok Post avoid the royal aspects of a weird event at the Rajaprasong intersection yesterday.

Clipped from social media

Clad in a yellow shirt, a man jumped out of an elaborately decorated Mercedes sedan with a large knife and a bag of snakes. Watched by thousands, he was said to have killed some of the snakes and to have cut himself (video here).

If that wasn’t strange enough, the car was heavily decorated with portraits and designs all related to King Vajiralongkorn.

Neither newspaper saw fit to report this royal link and neither reproduced photos showing that royal decorations on the vehicle, although the Post did include links to other sources that included such images.

While the man might have been crazed, the connections between coronation, blood sacrifice and the particular location chosen – the site of the red shirt massacre in 2010 – are not considered. The royal portraits and decorations are deliberately expunged  from the reporting to make the reports essentially faked news but not fake news.

Nor have these media suggested links to PAD demonstrations of the past

The media is crippled by royalist repression and self-censorship.

Update: The Bangkok Post produced another story that again failed to come up with any mention of the royal connections in the story. It even managed to find links that had photos with none of the royal stuff that was in the portraits he displayed or the writing on the car. Bravely, in this context, Khaosod reported that real estate businessman Ganeshpisnuthep Jakphopmahadecha, 42, “placed portraits of King Vajiralongkorn on his vehicle.”

Bonkers he might be, but our guess is that the location, the iconography and the mans history suggest he thought he was doing some purifying before the coronation.





Yellow “justice”

5 03 2019

After the Supreme Court finally upheld finally upheld the sentencing of six leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy to eight months in jail for actions during its occupation of Government House in 2008 it was thought by some that this was a late but appropriate judicial recognition of PAD’s illegal actions.

However, that seems to have been a foolish conclusion when writing about the judiciary in Thailand. As reported by Khaosod and the Bangkok Post, a “court on Monday found a group of anti-government protest leaders not guilty of multiple charges for their siege of the parliament in 2008 which turned fatal.”

That protest by PAD sought to topple a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra elected government and laid siege to parliament seeking to prevent it meeting. Police were ordered to clear the parliament entrance, and fired rounds of tear gas at the protesters in the morning of Oct. 7, 2008. Two people died in the clashes and about 380 were injured, including police. One of the PAD dead blew himself up in his car bomb.

In 2012 prosecutors charged 21 PAD leaders and argued that the protesters caused serious unrest in their resistance to the police and using various weapons against police. They were also accused of using threats to block members of the parliament from entering the building, injuring several policemen, locking all gates of the parliament, detaining officials inside the parliament for hours, and threatening to detain MPs.

The Criminal Court now declares that the demonstration “was protected by the constitution and did not constitute sedition despite confrontation with riot police…”. The court flocked to support PAD, ruling “that the leaders of the rally briefed followers on the extent of then-government’s corruption and mentioned attempts to amend the constitution in favour of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra…”. In other words, the court ruled that PAD supported the 2007 constitution and was protected by that constitution. The court also declared that “violence only broke out after officers fired tear gas at the crowd.”

No court seems to apply the same ruling in the case of red shirt protesters, preferring double standards.

For an accounts of the events, including PAD’s violence, see Nick Nostitz at New Mandala. At Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook page there’s an assessment of the ruling and events of the day.





Palace propaganda and the new reign

28 02 2019

As PPT has mentioned in several posts, when succession finally came, there were numerous commentators who had predicted a crisis and even an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” was that King Vajiralongkorn, because of his checkered past and odd personality could not have the same palace propaganda that had made his father’s benign, deified image, even when the reality of his reign was quite different.

The period since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne have shown that for all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed. The monarch is promoted using familiar and what the palace (and junta) considers tried and true methods.

These comments are prompted by a Bangkok Post story that has the junta “urging the public to wear a yellow shirt bearing the royal emblem of … the King from April until July as part of nationwide celebrations of the royal coronation in May.”

This yellow shirt wearing gimmick was really only widely adopted around the time of the dead king’s 60th jubilee which coincided with agitation against Thaksin Shinawatra. Yellow shirts became a symbol of loyalty and was taken up by the People’s Alliance for Democracy as it marked its territory as monarchists.

Even some who were to become red shirts donned loyalist yellow shirts.

When the military coup came in 2006, the troops marked themselves as loyalists by using yellow ribbons.

More recently, we have seen the creation of “royal volunteers for the king,” all of them decked out a loyalist uniform associated with the current king.

It was Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, speaking “after a second meeting of the government’s committee responsible for handling procedures for the ceremony” who revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office (The Dictators Office) “will issue a design prototype of the royal emblem for the yellow shirt.”

That design has already been approved by the king but the “committee is now waiting for a letter from the [Royal Householf B]ureau to confirm details of the design so it can be used as the official logo for the ceremony…”. Only that emblem will be permitted to be used.

That emblem will be reproduced in millions and will blanket the country and suffocate its people. Nothing much has changed. And, the events and displays of loyalty play into the junta’s political hands.





Further updated: Media reprimands Gen Apirat

20 02 2019

Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has been hammered by the media today. For example, the Bangkok Post had an editorial, two op-eds and a story all highly critical of his attack on campaigning politicians as “scum.”

In the story, it was reported that “[p]oliticians demanded … the army chief remain neutral in the lead-up to the … election after he rebuked them for calling for defence budget cuts and revived an anti-communist song…”.

Actually, it is a song that belongs to extreme rightists and ultra-royalists, most recently used by the yellow-shirted royalists People’s Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee to attack pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups and politicians.

In other words, Gen Apirat was reaffirming his ultra-royalism as an anti-democratic rightist. The notion that he will be “neutral” is farcical. The military is never politically neutral.

Commenting on this, Ploenpote Atthakor points out that one of the (false) justifications for the 2014 military coup was about eliminating political conflict. As she points out, Gen Apirat is promoting conflict. For PPT, it is clear that the military has been stirring conflict throughout recent decades. The military is the problem.

Even determined anti-Thaksinista, Veera Prateepchaikul points out:

Many people may love the song and call it patriotic. But for a person like me and many others who are old enough to have witnessed the horrors of the “October 6” massacre and heard it being blasted around the clock before that fateful day by the army-run Yankroh radio station alternating with the hateful phone-in comments against the students inside Thammasat University, this is unquestionably a far-right hate song for its association with this bloody history.

The Post’s editorial comes straight to the point:

The troubling response of the army commander to a rather benign political campaign promise has quickly escalated. Gen Apirat Kongsompong didn’t just try to refute the call to cut both the military budget and the number of general officers. He retaliated by reviving the most hateful song in Thai political history, and promised to flood military bases and the airwaves with it. It is a move with an ironclad guarantee of major political and national division.

It continues to condemn Gen Apirat, saying what was:

hugely disappointing and inappropriate was Gen Apirat’s instant and ill-formed leap into the political campaign. The decision of the highest ranking army officer to step into the election debate was questionable. What is indefensible is his order to revive and propagandise his soldiers with the noxious and odious 1970s song Nak Phandin.

Yet it is hardly out of the ordinary. Gen Apirat, like his predecessor Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have made their careers by being palace loyalists, rightists, and murderous military bosses.

Perhaps the most interesting commentary, however, was at Thai Rath, which outlines Gen Apirat’s family story. His father, Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, a diminutive rightist also known as “Big George,” was a corrupt leader of the 1991 coup. The paper points out that, following a dispute between Sunthorn’s wife and mistress in 2001, people were stunned to learn that the property under dispute was valued at over 3.9 billion baht.

Thai Rath goes through the whole story of this corrupt general, the father of the current military commander. Being a powerful military boss has been lucrative, but for the Kongsompong clan, the wealth siphoned was conspicuously huge. We have no evidence of who shared in that huge wealth.

Update 1: It is not just the media that has gone after Apirat. As Prachatai reportsAs Prachatai reports:

… student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with other members of the Student Union of Thailand, also went to the Army Headquarters to read an open letter to the Army Commander in Chief protesting Gen Apirat’s comment on ‘Nuk Paen Din.’

Following that:

… political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata held a demonstration at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in response to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s order to broadcast the controversial Cold War anthem ‘Nuk Paen Din’ (‘Scum of the Earth’) on all army radio stations and over the intercom at military headquarters.

Update 2: As might be expected, the military and its rabid response to politicians has been defended by what the Bangkok Post describes as “Chulalongkorn University political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn…”. Panitan is neither a “political scientist” nor an “academic” in the true senses of these words. Rather, he is a toady of the military and in its pay. He’s a propagandist for the military, lying that “army chief Gen Apirat spoke out in response to the proposed defence budget cuts because he intended to defend the interests of rank-and-file soldiers who would be affected by any spending cuts.” It is a ludicrous fabrication. Defending the murderous military is nit the work of serious academics.





Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.