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Thai Army Denies Twitter Claims on Spread of Propaganda

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2020-10-09
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A logo of social media site Twitter is displayed on a mobile phone, May 27, 2020.
A logo of social media site Twitter is displayed on a mobile phone, May 27, 2020.
AFP

Thailand’s army on Friday denied links with around a 1,000 Twitter accounts that the social media company blocked a day earlier saying the military was using them to spread propaganda and target the opposition.

Any social media used by the army aims only to provide information to the public in need of assistance during times of emergency, said Lt. Gen. Santipong Thammapiya, the spokesman for Royal Thai Army (RTA), a day after Twitter said it suspended 926 accounts in Thailand, which it “can reliably link” to the military.

“This is not an I.O. by the army. We did not do that as reported,” Santipong told reporters, using the abbreviation for “information operations.”

“All [of the] army’s social media are used for its public relations, and, especially for emergency cases that we can help people quickly.”

According to the Rand Corp., a California-based think-tank, “information operations” are also known as influence operations. They include the spread of propaganda to gain advantage over opponents.

On Thursday, Twitter wrote on its blog that the Thai accounts it blocked “were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behavior targeting prominent political opposition figures.”

“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),” said a report published Thursday by the Stanford Internet Observatory, a group Twitter shared its data with.

Twitter’s blockage of the 926 accounts came two weeks after Thailand brought police complaints against Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for not fully complying with court orders to take down content on their platforms deemed defamatory to Thailand’s royalty.

Thailand lodged those complaints amid a months-long pro-democracy campaign by activists and five days after tens of thousands of demonstrators converged in the heart of Bangkok to demand the government’s dissolution, a new constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

Puttipong Punnagun, the Thai minister for Digital Economy and Society, said Twitter’s announcement a day earlier took him by surprise because he believed the company should instead be working to comply with the court’s order.

“It is surprising that Twitter released this information during this time rather than following the Thai court’s orders and Thai law which calls for a ban or deletion of accounts that insult Thailand’s key institutions,” Puttipong said on his Facebook page Friday.

“We previously submitted court orders to it, but Twitter ignored them, did not delete 65 URLs. We are about to send them a new batch of orders, 253 orders. We call on Twitter to follow suit and show sincerity to exhibit Twitter’s transparency.”

Nontarat Phaicharoen contributed to this report.

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