By Saksith Saiyasombut
Last week, the micro-blogging website Twitter announced an implementation that gives them the possibility to withhold certain tweets to be viewable from certain countries, if legally required to do so. The backlash was expected and came in swiftly with countless of users express their #outrage. While some see an actual improvement in Twitter’s new policy as they make the process transparent in contrast to previously just deleting the offending tweeting.
Of course many are fearing that this move will enable governments to curtail freedom of speech by requesting Twitter to blank out unwanted tweets that is going against a sovereign narrative and thus rendering campaigns of minority voices on the social media service, that has been often attributed to be a vital tool in the Arab Spring, ineffective.
One of these countries is of course Thailand, where freedom of speech has been steadily on the decline over the past few years and recents months have seen an intense and emotional debate of the Kingdom’s ambiguous, but yet draconian lèse majesté law. While groups demanding a reform or the complete removal of Article 112 of the Criminal Code are battling with hardcore royalists and other opportunists, who are of course still upholding the notion that the royal institution needs to be protected above all else, the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra are maintaining their past stance and denying any move to amend the law whatsoever.
On Monday the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), in order not to be outdone by anyone, has come to endorse Twitter’s new policy:
ICT permanent secretary Jeerawan Boonperm said Twitter’s move to censor or block content regarded as offensive in particular countries was a “welcome development”.
The ICT Ministry will contact Twitter shortly to discuss ways in which they could collaborate, she said.
Mrs Jeerawan added the ICT already receives “good cooperation” from companies such as Google and Facebook in ensuring that Thai laws are respected.
Just in case you have missed it: Thailand is the FIRST government on this Earth to embrace Twitter’s new censorship policy! They have even beaten the Chinese, who of course made their own spin on this! This of course has drawn in the attention of the international media, as it also inevitably draws attention to the lèse majesté laws, which is slowly becoming synonymous for the Southeast Asian country.
What this whole controversy also shows is that Twitter, while a significant web service in today’s internet culture, is still a private corporation that is there to make a profit and expand in foreign markets, such as China. It is a ride on a razor’s edge between financial interests and the interests of it’s users – something that other web companies like Google and Yahoo have attempted by appeasing to the local laws and eventually damaging their reputation in the end.
In the case of Thailand, Twitter is yet another frontline in the seemingly never-ending battle for freedom of expression online against a force that is curtailing the diversity of views and opinions in order to protect their sole, valid sovereign narrative of a Kingdom that is getting into world’s spotlight more and more for all the wrong reasons.