As social media networks continue to extend their global reach and enter new countries and markets, users must be aware of the impacts their digital footprints can have on their real-world lives. Many Thai Facebook users are discovering just that.
According to Al Jazeera, Thailand has deemed more than 300 Facebook pages pages unlawful and asked Facebook to restrict local users' access to 178 of them. The Thai government refused to explain precisely why the pages were shut down, but the country's criminal court did specify that many of the blocked pages featured "inappropriate content," including alleged insults against the royal family.
In Thailand, lese majeste laws -- regulations that protect the monarchy from insult or threat -- state that insulting the royal family is an offense that can carry a 15-year jail sentence.
According to the Independent, one of the insults that sparked the crackdown was a video of the current Thai King wearing a crop top.
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The video was taken shortly before King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun was crowned, and shows the monarch walking through a shopping mall wearing the bright yellow tank top and sporting several large and complex tattoos on his arms and stomach. In the video, he's show accompanied by bodyguards.
The video has been blocked within Thailand, and Facebook has complied with Thai authorities to have the clip removed. When asked for comment, a Facebook spokesman said, "When governments believe something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook and ask us to restrict access to the content."
However, Al Jazeera reports that the U.N.'s reporter on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, encouraged companies to not just roll over so easily on content deemed unacceptable.
"They should ask questions so they don't just do it right off the bat," Kaye said in an interview with Al Jazeera. "They need to make the countries explain themselves at the very least, to mitigate the risk." Kaye has been previously critical of the Thai authorities use of lese majeste laws "as a political tool to stifle critical speech."
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And in a recent case reported by The Nation, it appeared the Thai authorities were doing just that. According to The Nation, a Thai police officer was recently summoned as a witness after he allegedly left a "like" on a message allegedly insulting a senior officer.
"An act of liking a wrongful Facebook status is equal to signing to endorse such an act," said Thailand's Technology Crime Suppression Division. Under the country's Criminal Code Article 83, a Facebook "like" is an equivalent crime to conspirator to a wrongful action. "While likers may not have the direct intention [on the wrongful act], an act of pressing 'like' increased the credibility of such information," said the TCSD.
But many Thai activists and internet providers have begun to push back against the Thai government's stifling actions.
"Only thought police would assume that 'liking' is a pure agreement," said Sarinee Achavanuntakul, co-founder of the Thai Netizen Network. "It doesn't matter how wrongful that online message is, pressing 'like' shouldn't be wrong from the start. It doesn't even have enough weight to judge a liker as being involved in such a post -- that he has to be summoned as a witness."