Thailand junta pushes Google, Facebook and Line to scrub Web of 'objectionable' content

Thailand's junta seeks to scrub the country's web of any content it dislikes.
Thailand's junta seeks to scrub the country's web of any content it dislikes.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta is ramping up pressure on Internet giants Google and Facebook - and the popular messaging app Line - to scrub the country's Web of any content it dislikes, officials confirmed on Tuesday (Feb 2).

The military seized power in a 2014 coup and has launched the harshest rights crackdowns in decades, arresting critics, muzzling the media and banning political gatherings or protests.

The Web, in particular social media, has remained one of the few avenues open to Thais to speak out - though not without risks. Prosecutions for lese majeste, so-called computer crimes and sedition have soared with many arrested for online posts.

Junta officials are now seeking face-to-face meetings with major Web companies to try and speed up how quickly they take down objectionable content.

Police Major-General Pisit Paoin, from the junta's committee on mass media reform, said officials would meet with Google, Facebook and Line over the next three months "to ask for their co-operation in dealing with illegal images or clips that affect security and the nation's core institution", a euphemism for the monarchy.

"There have been tens of thousand of the illegal posts over the past five years", he told AFP.

Officials held the first of their meetings with Google recently. Minutes of that meeting were leaked last week by hackers and later published widely by local media showing Thai officials are pushing for big Web companies to agree to takedowns without a court order.

Maj-Gen Pisit said large Web companies have reacted with reluctance over the past five years to previous requests to censor content.

"We have received better response from Google in the US (since the meeting)," he said. "Now we plan on talking with Line and Facebook."

Globally, Web firms must comply with local laws and routinely block content within that country if presented with a court order.

But the leaked minutes suggest the Thai junta want a far more lenient standard adopted.

In a statement Line said it "has yet to be contacted by an official entity requesting such censorship" but added that "the privacy of Line users is our top priority".

"Once we have been officially contacted, we will perform our due diligence towards the related parties and consider an appropriate solution that does not conflict with our company's global standards, nor the laws of Thailand," the statement added.

The Japanese company is by far the most popular social messaging app in Thailand and is even used by many government ministries and police stations to officially brief media.

Last week, a man was arrested for sharing a video allegedly mocking junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha with his friends on Line, suggesting the Thai authorities are already monitoring the messenger for content it disapproves of.

Facebook and Google have yet to respond to AFP's requests for comment.