Thailand Wants Facebook, Other Social Media Firms to Remove More URLs

Pimuk Rakkanam and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2017-08-07
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170807-TH-internet-1000.jpg A man searches for information online in Bangkok, July 27, 2017.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Facebook and YouTube complied with a court order and removed almost 2,000 web pages since early May that Thai government media monitors had deemed unacceptable, but authorities said Monday they still expected social media firms to take down another 1,786 URLs.

Thousands of web pages appearing on these and other social media platforms in Thailand were tagged for removal after being deemed to have violated national security laws and Lese-Majeste, a strict law that guards against defaming, insulting or threatening the king and other Thai royals, officials said.

Social media firms removed 1,940 pages out of 3,726 that were blacklisted because they contained prohibited and offensive material, Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), told reporters Monday.

“Facebook has removed 1,039 out of 2,556 URLs. YouTube took out 779 out of 779 links,” Takorn said, referring to the “illicit” Web pages or links that were taken down by the two firms between May 1 and July 16.

Facebook did not respond immediately to emails sent by BenarNews for comment.

82 arrested, charged

Since the military seized power in a coup in May 2014, at least 82 people have been arrested and charged on suspicion of violating Lese-Majeste.

Some have been charged under the law for merely sharing or “liking” articles about the king on Facebook and other platforms that were seen as offensive or defamatory.

On June 9, a Bangkok military court convicted a 34-year-old man to 35 years in prison for posting content on Facebook deemed as insulting to the monarchy, a lawyer said.

Last month, the Digital Economy Ministry announced a law calling for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to remove illicit content within 24 hours after being notified, or face imprisonment. But the ministry did not clarify what constituted “illicit content.”

ISPs, which function as local servers for the social-media and tech giants, had previously received an ultimatum from NBTC to block Web pages by Aug. 8.

In mid-May, Takorn gave Facebook a deadline to take down more than 130 posts on its network that were seen as in violation of Lese-Majeste and Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, threatening legal action that could lead to Facebook being banned in the country.

But when the deadline was met, Takorn toned down the threat to block access to Facebook, citing its cooperation in removing about 6,300 URLs over the past three years.

Facebook spokeswoman Clare Wareing, who is based in Singapore, told BenarNews in an email at the time that when government officials believe that an Internet posting violates their country’s laws, they may ask the company to restrict access to that content.

When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content,” she said. “If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted.”

Rights advocacy groups view Thailand’s threats to shut down Facebook as the newest effort by the junta to restrict online speech and free expression.

The threat against Facebook means that users “will be constantly looking over their shoulder in fear that they could be sent to jail for posting or sharing commentary about the monarchy,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement in May.

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