Thailand will open its first anti-fake news centre by Nov 1 to combat unverified news circulating on social media platforms, Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta has said.
"These days anyone can be a reporter. Anything can be posted and shared. Thai people love to share. But who has taken responsibility for such information and reflected on what impact it has on society?" Mr Buddhipongse said at a forum on data privacy yesterday.
The goal of the centre will be to identify information that may not be factual, verify the facts and then disseminate an accurate picture to the public via a new website, Facebook and the Line chat application.
The centre will look at several areas where fake news is commonly circulated, including natural disasters, financial matters, health products and illicit goods, as well as government policies.
Located in Bangkok, it will be manned by ministry staff, state enterprise personnel, civic groups, university staff, and the Thai Journalists Association.
"This is not solely a government initiative, as we have sought cooperation with civil society and the private sector," the minister told The Straits Times.
The centre's opening will come two months after Thailand proposed that tech companies establish anti-fake news centres in each of the 10 Asean countries. This has been accepted by the council of Asean telecommunications regulators.
Since taking up the ministerial post in July, Mr Buddhipongse, who served as a government spokesman during the military regime under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, has taken it upon himself to quell false rumours. One of these suggested that the authorities would designate a special security zone following a series of bomb blasts in Bangkok early last month.
In a Facebook post made on Sunday, Mr Buddhipongse said equipment was being installed and tested at the centre, with artificial intelligence and experts being deployed.
Future Forward Party spokesman Pannika Wanich said: "I agree with the minister that fake news is a big challenge faced by Thai society nowadays. But what I'm concerned about is the government's impartiality in carrying out this task.
"We're not sure if this will be just another tool to control people's opinions, judging by the ministry's track record," she added.
Some people running fake stories against the government online were arrested two weeks ago.
"The anti-fake news centre is likely to be a tool for censorship. The policy of the Thai authorities over the past five years has focused exclusively on clamping down and punishing critics and dissidents even for comments made in good faith," said Mr Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch.
According to Thailand's strict computer crime laws, anyone found guilty of disseminating false information faces up to five years in prison.