FACEBOOK removed content deemed to be in breach of Thailand’s lèse majesté laws 30 times in the second half of 2014 following requests from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Thai CERT (Computer Security Incident Response Team).
Additionally, the ruling junta submitted three requests for information on Facebook users in Thailand during that time. It was not revealed whether Facebook released data on these users.
“We respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases. Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague,” Facebook says.
Facebook’s latest ‘Government Requests Report’ shows a sharp increase in the removal of content that breaks Thailand’s laws “prohibiting criticism or defamation of the King and Royal Family”. To put it in perspective, no content was removed in Thailand in the second half of 2013, and content was only removed five times in the first half of 2014.
Although requests for user data by governments are common – 87 countries requested user data from Facebook in the second half of 2014 – requests for the removal of content by governments are relatively rare, with just 17 countries doing so in the latter half of 2014.
Facebook’s Indian censors are by far the busiest, removing content 5,832 times in those six months, followed by Turkey, where content was removed 3,624 times.
Facebook says all requests to remove content are scrutinized carefully, and the content is only removed in the country or territory where it violates laws:
“Requests are scrutinized to determine if the specified content does indeed violate local laws. If, after a thorough legal analysis, we determine content appears to violate local law, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.”
While the rate of removal of content by Facebook in Thailand pales comparison to India and Turkey, the sharp increase in the latter half of last year is not encouraging. It is not surprising that this came about after the military junta took power in the May 22 coup last year. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) made it clear that it would not tolerate any breaches of the lèse majesté laws – punishable by up to 15 years in prison – with arrests and convictions rising sharply since the coup.
While the junta-led government has managed to bring traditional domestic media largely to heel, it has struggled in its approach to social media and Facebook has emerged as one of the chief channels of online dissent.
Despite some early scares Thailand’s generals haven’t gone so far as to block Facebook outright. Though there was concern in late May, just days after the coup, when it emerged that Internet giants Facebook and Google called off planned meetings with junta representatives to discuss the censorship of online anti-coup dissent. The military rulers fell short of an outright block, but were, however, quick to put large cyber-surveillance teams in place to scan the Internet for dissent and any content deemed insulting to the monarchy.
As well as adding to the overall culture of fear in Thailand under the junta, the surveillance has resulted in some notable convictions. In November, a 24-year-old undergraduate student at Mahanakorn University of Technology was jailed for two-and-a-half years for posting comments on Facebook deemed to be in breach of lese majeste laws.
If currents trends continue Facebook will be seeing more requests from the Thai government to remove any content deemed insulting to the monarchy. Whether this will extend to dissent and criticism of the junta remains to be seen. Thailand’s forthcoming cyber laws, and Facebook’s interpretation of them, will tell a lot.
Facebook’s full ‘Government Requests Reports’ can be downloaded here