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.





Updated: Army lies

12 10 2020

Army trolls

A few days ago, we posted on Twitter’s revelations that the Royal Thai Army has at least 926 accounts used in “information operations” against anti-government figures and opposition politicians. Naturally enough, the military and its regime responded. And, this bunch of dullards did so only they can.

The Bangkok Post reported that the regime and Army “have slammed Twitter, accusing it of unfairly linking them with nearly 1,000 accounts which the social media giant took down for being propagandist.” Yeah, right. Remember that this is a regime that has jailed hundreds for posts on social media. They claim they can track social media accounts, but, apparently, the company Twitter can’t. Seriously, how stupid are they and how stupid do they think Thais are?

The Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta went on the attack, seeming to acknowledge that the Twitter accounts belonged to the military, but blasting Twitter for not complying with orders issued by the regime’s tame courts “to take down accounts which contained defamatory content against the monarchy.” Some dolt must have told the minister that attack was the best form of defense.

It’s always about the monarchy when these dopes try to repel criticism, reverting to Pavlovian responses.

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.

To “help” out, deputy army spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong decided to deny by stating something that’s true but irrelevant: “Unidentified user accounts had nothing to do with any official account of the army.” Ah, that’s the point of these operations; they are not meant to be official.

Khaosod reported that the accounts “were using randomized usernames and they had zero to 66 followers. The oldest account was created on May 27, 2014, five days after the coup which brought PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to power, while most of the accounts were created between Nov. 2019 to Feb. 2020.” It added that the majority of the 21,386 tweets by the accounts “promoted the works of the army and praised the monarchy with messages such as ‘Great work!,’ ‘I’m with you,’ and ‘Long live the king’.”

They became particularly active after “the mass shooting in Korat by a disgruntled soldier in February, in which they tried to disassociate the army from the shooter and honored the military’s role in bringing down the shooter.” Many of the messages attacked “opposition politicians, such as Thanathorn Juangruangroongkit and Pannika Wanich, the former executives of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party.”

Khaosod also pointed out that the Army’s cack-handed effort to distance itself from “Twitter’s accusations do not sit well with multiple reports that show army units routinely engaging in online information campaigns aimed at discrediting the opposition and upholding the Royal Family.” Back in 2016, “then-army chief Gen. Chalermchai Sittisart confirmed the force is engaging in information operations to suppress distorted information and create ‘better understanding’ with people on social media.”

In other words, they are liars. Indeed, damned liars.

Update: When they are not lying, they are shutting down stuff. Prachatai reports that its “video of human rights lawyer Anon Nampa in which he addresses monarchy reform is inaccessible…” on YouTube.  A “YouTube spokesperson has stated via email that it is operating in line with a Thai government request.” In other words, YouTube is working hand-in-glove with liars, trolls and dictators. In fact, the regime seldom uses a court order when requesting blocking: “According to the Google Transparency Report … during 2009-2019 the Thai government submitted 964 requests to delete content…. Of the requests, only 62 were endorsed by the Thai courts…”. Shameful that YouTube goes along with such rubbish.





Army trolls

9 10 2020

Thai Enquirer reports that Twitter has revealed that the Royal Thai Army has at least 926 accounts used in “information operations” against anti-government figures and opposition politicians.

Since the 2006 military coup and more intensively since the 2014 coup, huge budgets have gone to “cyber security,” including the use of cyber vigilantes. State agents have long targeted “opponents,” disrupted and trolled.

Twitter’s report on state-backed “Information Operations” is about “attempts to manipulate Twitter to influence elections and other civic conversations by foreign or domestic state-backed entities.”

The most recent Twitter report disclosed “five distinct networks of accounts … of state-linked information operations.” The accounts were “attributed to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Thailand and Russia.” Twitter states that it has “permanently suspended all 1,594 accounts associated with the five networks, for various violations of our platform manipulation policies.”

On Thailand it states:

Our investigation uncovered a network of accounts partaking in information operations that we can reliably link to the Royal Thai Army (RTA). These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behavior targeting prominent political opposition figures.

We are disclosing 926 accounts today and continue to enforce against small-scale activity associated with this network, as we identify it.

At the Twitter pages the data on Thailand can be downloaded.

Meanwhile, a report on the operations associated with the 926 accounts has been released by the Stanford Internet Observatory. This report provides some “relief” as it found the Army was not very good at this information operation:

Of the 926 accounts, only 455 actively tweeted, producing a total of 21,385 tweets in the takedown. The network was used primarily to promote pro-government and pro-military positions and accounts on Twitter and to attack political opposition, particularly the Future Forward Party and Move Forward Party (FFP and MFP, respectively). This was a coordinated but low-impact operation: most accounts had no followers and the majority of tweets received no engagement (calculated as the sum of likes, replies, retweets, and quote retweets). This might be due in part to the operation’s limited duration: most of the accounts were created in January 2020 and the network largely stopped tweeting by March 2, 2020. Activity was heavily concentrated in February 2020 with notable spikes around the Korat shooting, a mass shooting in which a soldier killed 30 people, and the dissolution of the FFP.





Military, palace, regime and repression

6 06 2020

With the enforced disappearance of military and monarchy critic Wanchalerm Satsaksit, it seems appropriate to post, in full, a recent story from The Economist. It seems to PPT that the “disappearance” of the activist probably has much to do with the palace, the military and the regime in Bangkok wanting to silence criticism:

Voice of treason
The Thai government tries new ways to curb online critics
But the critics are feeling emboldened, too

RUNNING A COUNTRY is much easier if you can silence naysayers. Just ask Thailand’s prime minister, [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha. Having seized the job after leading a coup in 2014, he clung to it through an unfair election last year. One of the secrets to his success has been the severe restrictions on what Thais can say about both their government and the monarchy. More than 900 people endured “attitude adjustment” in the years after Mr Prayuth came to power, according to iLaw, a Thai NGO. Approval of a new constitution in a referendum in 2016 was eased by a ban on criticising the draft. As of 2017 at least 100 people were either detained awaiting trial or serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté. But the authorities are not content with the same old gags. They are always coming up with new ways to silence dissent.

The lèse-majesté law, for example, has fallen from favour. It attracted censure from abroad, as anachronistic and repressive. Since last year those writing rude things about King … Vajiralongkorn … or criticising the government have been targeted instead under laws on sedition, computer crimes or defamation. In November the government also inaugurated an anti-fake news centre. An emergency decree passed in March gives the authorities power to prosecute those deemed to be spreading misinformation about covid-19. At the time Mr Prayuth warned Thais against “abuse of social media”.

Online rabble-rousers are sometimes summoned by police or other officials, but not prosecuted for any crime. The intimidating process is often enough to shut them up. One Thai student describes how local authorities contacted his university last month to complain about his Facebook posts querying government spending, before asking him to visit the police and eventually hand over his iPad and Facebook account details. He doesn’t yet know whether he will face charges. But he believes he attracted attention for helping to lead student protests on his campus earlier this year. “If the most active figures are suppressed by the government then this might also result in the ending of the student movement,” he says.

Even as the government’s approach evolves, disgruntled Thais are also changing how they use social media. Frustration over the miserable state of the economy, the king’s antics and the handling of the coronavirus are boiling over online. In recent months netizens have expressed views that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. “We have never seen this level of open defiance, towards the monarchy in particular, before,” reckons Andrew MacGregor Marshall of Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.

Notable outbursts include rage on Twitter over traffic jams in Bangkok caused by road closures linked to the movements of royal motorcades. So vehement was the criticism that in January a government spokeswoman announced that the king “has acknowledged the traffic problem and is concerned for the people”. Roads are no longer fully shut for royal motorcades. Another bold move was the creation in April of the “Royalists Marketplace” on Facebook. Its members advertise satirical services to lampoon the monarchy. Its founder, Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University, offered pet grooming with a picture of the king’s late poodle, Foo Foo. (In life the animal was made an Air Chief Marshal.) The marketplace has attracted 500,000 members in less than two months. Mr Pavin says at least two of them have lost their jobs for being in the group.

Other Thais are cautious almost to paranoia. Fears last month that Twitter might in some way be sharing information with the Thai government led tens of thousands to switch to an alternative social platform called Minds. “The assertion we’re in co-ordination with any government to suppress speech has no basis in fact whatsoever,” says Kathleen Reen, who works for Twitter in the region.

That will come as a relief to the many Thais who have been using such hashtags as #WhyDoWeNeedAKing and #RIPThailand. “[Thais] have the platforms to release their frustrations,” explains Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University, “but it is not easy to translate that to a real movement.” That suits Mr Prayuth.





Seeking safety in cyberspace

31 05 2020

At Quartz, there’s discussion of efforts to find safety on line. By “safety” is meant avoiding visits from the police and military for what one reads and writes online.

It begins by quoting Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an independent commentator and associated with the Thai Netizen Network, who discarded Twitter: “Say goodbye to Twitter and meet at Minds.”

Many are now “wary and distrustful of Twitter over a recent string of developments on the platform that sparked privacy concerns.”

After Facebook became unsafe, patrolled by state and reporting to authorities, with several arrested and charged with lese majeste, Thais turned to Twitter.

Now, they worry about Twitter:

The most proximate cause was an update to the platform’s privacy policy on May 19, set to take effect globally next month, allowing Twitter to share device-level data like a user’s IP address with business partners. The policy update came just days after Twitter launched an official Twitter Thailand account, with an accompanying blog post noting that Twitter has partnered with local NGOs and the government. To Thai Twitter users, that was a huge red flag, sparking fears that incriminating user information could be shared with the government.

Sarinee said the “newly set up official Twitter Thailand account was ‘very tone deaf, boring… using official language’…”. For many, when a Twitter spokesperson said the company is “committed to serving an open and public conversation in Thailand and will continue to be transparent” it sounded something like an admission that it is now working with the repressive state.

The, in February, “a Thai Twitter user was arrested for allegedly posting a tweet that insulted the monarchy. It was the first arrest directly linked to a tweet…”. Other users, some of them critical of the monarchy, began to get “visits” from the authorities.

Some users have turned to Minds. It is described this way:

Minds has become popular for its commitment to privacy, decentralization, optional anonymity, radical transparency, free speech, and user rewards in contrast to the surveillance, secrecy, censorship, and algorithm manipulation occurring on many proprietary social networks.





Restricting new media for the monarchy

5 10 2012

A report at The Independent prompts PPT to look at Google and Twitter for their transparency reports and information on government requests for information or blocking.

We also looked at Facebook, and while its data use policy is long, it does say:

We may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so. This may include responding to legal requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law in that jurisdiction, affects users in that jurisdiction, and is consistent with internationally recognized standards.

The problems seems to be that it provides no data like Google and YouTube.

The report at the newspaper argues that the “struggle over free speech is playing out most vividly today in countries that are America’s friends rather than its enemies, in nations where the right of expression is embraced in concept but often rankles in practice…”. We’re not quite sure why “America’s friends” is the criteria, but the point that in so-called democracies, including the U.S., governments are struggling to come to terms with an explosion of information.

Noting that “[a]uthoritarian regimes have more straightforward ways to block speech” by building firewalls and so on, the report adds that “[d]emocracies, however, wrestle continuously over where to draw lines when faced with expression they find unacceptable.” Government moves to block are growing:

Such moves underscore a central conundrum of technology and free expression: It’s much easier to spread images and ideas than ever before; it also can be easier for governments to block them, especially when they are centralized on the servers of a handful of private companies.

On Thailand, the report states: “Thailand, meanwhile, had just six requests [to Google], but they concerned 374 YouTube videos; Google removed them all.”

This prompted PPT to look at the Thailand data at the Google transparency report. Organized in 6-monthly blocks, its current data ends in December 2011, and is in two reports. The first, for January to June 2011 states:

We receive requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove content for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We received two requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 225 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We restricted Thai users from accessing more than 90% of the videos.

This seems inaccurate, for the data in the table states that while there were no court orders, compliance (the percentage of removal requests fully or partially complied with) on two government requests was 100% on 225 items. In July-December 2010, there was one request and 100% of 43 items were blocked.

For July to December 2011, under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, it is stated:

We received four requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We restricted 70% of these videos from view in Thailand in accordance with local law.

Again, we are not sure how that squares with the data that shows 100% compliance with government requests to block 149 items. Only 5 other countries had more items targeted than Thailand, the same ranking as for the earlier 6 month period.

Twitter has recently produced its first transparency report, being for January to June 2012, and this indicates no requests from the Thai government for any blocking.

These reports appear to indicate a continuing effort to “protect” the monarchy by the Yingluck government from YouTube videos considered to somehow “threaten” it. While the number of items has reduced, it is unclear whether this indicates less government attention to blocking for the monarchy or less material being posted.





Risky tweets?

19 06 2012

Readers will probably enjoy Matt Crook’s article at the Huff Post Tech page. He notes the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s eagerness for a “re-branding” of the country, hiring “uber-hipster Tyler Brule to do precisely that. Perhaps best known for founding Monocle magazine, Brule is a curious choice for the role.”

Curious, perhaps, because Brule is an style guru for the idle rich and other elites. Well, maybe not so curious then. Curious because his initial work makes Thailand look like a cross between a Scandinavian hospital and a Berlin stainless steel exhibition. Perhaps someone in the current government is hip enough to subscribe to Monocle. Brule explains that his

goal is not to remake Thailand in the eyes of Thais but, in Brule’s words, “reaching people in Frankfurt and Hong Kong and Stockholm and San Francisco.” He was paid an amount that … has not been disclosed.

Crook’s column takes off from Brule, wondering what it would be like if Thailand’s official Twitter account was handed over to people who were “able to post whatever they like.” He then adds a long and telling list of all the things these Tweeters (or is it Twitterers) would have to be and avoid all at the same time. It makes an interesting read.





Lese majeste repression continues

10 03 2012

Prachatai reports a lese majeste case that the mainstream media is unable or unwilling to do. We are not sure why this case has taken so long to emerge, with emails about it doing the rounds only earlier this week. We recommend reading the whole story at Prachatai.

It is reported that on 13 December 2011, police were seeking to arrest 5 people but only raided the homes of two Thai internet users, took them in for interrogation and seized their computers, phones and so on. They were released at night on the same day. They have not been officially charged.

One of the two is a 45-year-old woman who runs a small store and gives English lessons in Nakhon Pathom. She states that 14 policemen from the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TDSC) raided her house but refused to give her copies of the search warrant and interrogation report.

Apparently the police targeted her as

a member of the http://www.weareallhuman.info webboard, followed ‘Hi S tales’ (see here and here at New Mandala), promoted the stories by posting on the threads so that they kept appearing on the first page, and used an emoticon called ‘Khun Saab Sueng’ (คุณซาบซึ้ง), or Mr or Miss Overwhelmingly Grateful, created by another member of the webboard, which the police identified as a satirical symbol recognized among red shirts as referring to the monarchy.

She fears police have changed her hard disks which could be used in evidence if her case ever goes to trial.

The other person who was raided was Thaiwat Sithandonsamut who is an active blogger on politics and comics.

He has “been active in archiving articles and documents on politics and IT on his several blogs and Twitter and Facebook accounts.” He believes police raided his home because of an online accusation that he was “collecting information to overthrow the monarchy.”

Thaiwat says:

“I’m not worried and not afraid. As I’m now still unemployed, even if I’m persecuted and locked behind bars, that would not create much impact on me. At most, I would be jailed until Thai society agrees to accept, speak and take responsibility for the truth…”.

Odd, seemingly unrelated cases, but suggesting that the search for “disloyalty” continues in exceptionally bizarre ways, suggesting that the mindset of investigators is warped. At the same time, these cases again declare that lese majeste repression remains in place.





Lese majeste in the news II

3 02 2012

Earlier in the week, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said that lese majeste reform wasn’t newsworthy. However, it seems that the media hasn’t heeded his advice. The following are a selection of stories from the past few days.

All from the Bangkok Post:

Monopolising spaces of freedom

Just whose land is Thailand?

Baan Muang Editorial

‘No need’ to reply to academics

Nitirat ban splits student body

Get to the real point

Tense standoff at Thammasat over lese majeste law

Journalism students oppose Nitirat

Jatuporn: Nitirat’s ideas well meant

Siam Rath Editorial

You’re on your own, red shirts tell Nitirat

Lese majeste ban fails to ignite campus

Calls mount to overhaul Article 112

Thammasat ban on Nitirat sparks free speech row

Natthawut: No change in lese majeste

All from The Nation:

Thammasat ‘is open’ to academic events

Govt distances itself from Nitirat

Lese majeste a pretext to topple govt by April: Jatuporn

Foreign-based academics, experts back Nitirat group

Nitirat ‘not likely’ to cause October 6-like violence

From dusk till dawn

Some 224 international scholars back Campaign 112

Where did the promised freedom at Thammasat go?

Thammasat rector defends Nitirat ban

Opposing views must be heard and tolerated

The case for and against Nitirat

Pheu Thai and red shirts split on changes to the charter

Debate the lese majeste law

No campus campaigns, Nitirat told

Some international stories:

Asian Correspondent, Ignorance, fury and blind faith in the wrath against Nitirat

BBC News, Calls for change over Thai ‘royal insult’ law

TVNZ, Noam Chomsky urges Thai PM to revise laws

AsiaOne, Leste majeste debate tests Thais’ ability to disagree peacefully

‎CNBC, Chomsky, scholars urge Thai reform of lese majeste law

‎The Guardian, Thailand backs Twitter censorship policy

‎Sydney Morning Herald, Thailand backs Twitter censorship

TG Daily, Thailand welcomes Twitter censorship changes

‎PSFK, Thailand Backs Twitter Censorship Policy

News24, Thailand welcomes Twitter censorship

Computer Business Review, Thailand embraces Twitter’s new censorship policy








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