Questions raised over Thai government’s control of online content

Facebook is still operating in Thailand despite government threats to block the highly popular social media over breaches of the country’s strict lese majeste laws.

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The Thai government had threatened to block Facebook if posts critical of the country’s revered monarchy were not removed.

The lese majeste laws have been in place for three years and have seen about 100 people jailed, many of them for comments made online.

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But for one expert, the stoush has raised more serious questions about the extent of the government’s influence over online services and content within Thailand.

Digital media expert Aim Sinpeng told SBS World News questions needed to answered about the amount of power the Thai government had over what its citizens saw online.

“The bigger questions we should be asking ourselves is what are some of the other stuff that the government has asked ISP providers, or third party companies like Facebook, for co-operation that have been agreed to that the public doesn’t know about?” she said.

“The government first, when they’re trying to limit the flow of certain information or content online, they first discuss this with companies that are basically the ones that are providing the internet, and once that fails or that didn’t go as planned then they actually reach out to the general public.

“I think the bigger question we should ask ourselves is how much can the government have in negotiating with the internet service providers but also Facebook Thailand as a company in filtering or managing online discussions overall.”

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She said Facebook’s continued operation in the country did not surprise her.

“Particularly because Facebook is the most popular social networking site in Thailand, and Thailand is one of the most Facebook active countries in the world actually,” she said.

“The penetration rate is over 90 per cent. And [it is] a very small number of users that the regime is targeting who have anti-regime views, or in particular, violating lese mageste law are very, very, very few minority compared to the overall size of the number of internet, Facebook users.”

Dr Sinpeng said the public dressing down of Facebook was seen as more of a “severe warning for Facebook Thailand”.

She said people were more likely to be concerned about how they would connect with people without Facebook than whether they were going to be arrested for political activity online.

Dr Sinpeng said blocking Facebook entirely would be a big step for the Thai government to take.

“The social backlash and the political consequences of shutting down Facebook would be really significant for the regime’s ability,” she said.

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