Twitter suspends Thai royalist account linked to palace

Review shows drive to spread favourable information about monarchy, discredit opponents

Protesters and royalists have cited the importance of social media in propelling the protest movement.
Protesters and royalists have cited the importance of social media in propelling the protest movement.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Twitter has suspended a Thai pro-royalist account linked to the palace that a Reuters analysis found was connected to thousands of others created in recent weeks and spreading posts in favour of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the monarchy.

The Reuters review found tens of thousands of tweets that an expert said appeared to be from accounts amplifying royalist messaging in a push to counter a months-long protest movement that has swelled from opposing the government to breaking a longstanding taboo by challenging the monarchy.

Internal army training documents reviewed by Reuters showed evidence of a coordinated information campaign designed to spread favourable information and discredit opponents.

The pro-monarchy @jitarsa-school account was suspended after Reuters sought comment last Wednesday from Twitter on the recent royalist campaign on the social media platform, where protesters have long had a strong presence.

Protesters and royalists have cited the importance of social media in propelling the protest movement, which has become the biggest challenge in decades to the monarchy as well as the government of former junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Created in September, the @jitarsa-school account had more than 48,000 followers before its suspension.

"The account in question was suspended for violating our rules on spam and platform manipulation," a Twitter representative said on Sunday. She said the suspension was in line with the company's policies and not a result of the Reuters request for comment.

The account's profile said it trained people for the Royal Volunteers programme run by the Royal Office.

A Facebook page for the Royal Volunteers School, which posts pro-monarchy videos and news of the programme, identifies the Twitter account as its own.

Neither the school nor the Royal Volunteers headquarters responded to requests for comment on the suspension. The "Volunteer Spirit 904" programme was established during the current king's reign, which began in 2016, to build loyalty to the monarchy.

The palace did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent weeks, royalist hashtags have begun trending on Twitter, an important platform for opponents of the government even before protests began in July.

The Reuters analysis found that more than 80 per cent of the accounts following @jitarsa-school were created since the start of September.

  • >48,000

  • A sample of 4,600 of the recently created accounts showed that all they did was promote the royalist hashtags - an indication of the kind of activity that would not be associated with regular Twitter users.

"Government forces have been trying to counter the protesters," said Ms Saijai Liangpunsakul of the independent Social Media Monitoring for Peace group.

"Twitter has taken down some accounts, but there are many more."

Royalist group leader Warong Dechgitvigrom declined to comment on the account's suspension, saying he was unaware of it.

He said there were more pro-monarchy messages on Twitter because royalists increasingly recognised the need to counter protesters' messages and had encouraged each another to join the platform.

Royalists have accused protesters of inauthentic activity on Twitter, with coordinated campaigns around hashtags.

But Mr Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, one of the protest leaders, said protesters using the platform were genuine and he welcomed the suspension of the pro-royalist account.

Although not directly linked to the @jitarsa-school account, a 28-page army document reviewed by Reuters showed an organised information operation to target "opponents" and spread pro-monarchy messages on Twitter.

The army last Saturday acknowledged that the document is genuine, saying in a Facebook post it was used in a training session to strengthen the army's public relations efforts.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2020, with the headline 'Twitter suspends Thai royalist account linked to palace'. Print Edition | Subscribe