New intensity in efforts to monitor and control illegal and dangerous content online coming as minister warns of the dangers of division, hatred and possible confrontation within Thai society caused by the recent upsurge in student protests and political activity. Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta is a former leader of the street protests that led to the 2014 army coup.
Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, is to warn the social media giant Facebook that it has 15 days to comply with a formal request to remove 1,129 pages communicated to the network between April and the end of June that the US firm has, so far, failed to do. The minister has underlined, in his warning to the tech firm, that it may face civil proceedings and criminal prosecution under the 2007 Computer Crime Act if it fails to abide by Thai law. It comes at a time when concerns are being raised about online content as student protests surge while conservative voices in Thailand and indeed within the government are hardening their stance.
Facebook, this week, has so far declined to comment on a warning issued by the Minister of Digital Economy and Society on Monday that the tech giant could face both civil and criminal proceedings in Thailand if there is continued failure to block access to URLs on the popular platform which are the subject of court orders obtained by his ministry and formal requests.
Buddhipongse Punnakanta made his comments in a Facebook post and explained that his ministry had sent a formal letter to the social media network requesting that 1,365 URLs on its platform be blocked following court orders in a three month period from April to June 30th this year.
Minister says Facebook only complied with 17% of blocking requests in the three months to June 30th
The minister complained that Facebook had only removed 236 or roughly 17% of the pages while 1,129 remained open and online in defiance of the government’s demands.
Mr Buddhipongse compared this performance to the video-sharing platform YouTube where requests to down 135 URLs were complied with fully within the same period.
The minister indicated that Facebook had suggested that it had not received an appropriate formal letter or court order in connection with the requests but he now intended to send another letter.
‘Previously, Facebook claimed that it did not receive a formal letter or a court order. But now, I will send a letter to them again to tell them that we will take legal action. We have given them three months, but they have still failed to act,’ he explained.
US tech giant could be in violation of the 2007 Computer Crime Act in Thailand claims minister
The minister is claiming that failure by the social network, which is enormously popular in Thailand, to comply with his ministry’s requests is a breach of Section 27 of the Computer Crime Act 2007 and its associated amendments.
This was on the basis of his department giving Facebook a final 15-day warning to comply with its instructions. The minister pointed out that, in Thailand, the internet is governed strictly by Thai law and reminded Facebook of this.
The minister, in recent days, has become increasingly strident in his criticism of the US firm which also operates a base in Thailand while expanding its operations here.
Fine of ฿200,000 and ฿5,000 per day for non-compliance in addition to criminal charges
He points out that this can result in both civil and criminal action against the firm in Thailand leading to an initial fine of ฿200,000 and up to ฿5,000 a day so long as the offending URLs are not removed.
However, Mr Buddhipongse also suggested that in parallel, other applications, linked with investigations, were being made to the courts to have URLs removed but this was moving at a slower pace, it appears.
Ministry investigating closely 181 websites and social network pages, only 1 linked with fake news
The minister said that his officials had opened files and investigations into 181 internet pages intending to have them closed down through court order.
Of these, only seven so far have been ordered shut by the courts.
He revealed that the remaining 174 pages consisted of four separate groups. The first was 35 pages linked with fraud, the second was 25 pages linked with online gambling, the third was one URL linked with fake news while the 4th group comprised of pages that were still being investigated.
Public response to call from online volunteers to monitor activity has been impressive
However, matters were at a far higher level of activity when it came to reports from the public on suspicious sites and internet pages.
The minister was enthused that the response to a new webpage ‘Volunteers Keep an Eye Online‘ had been prodigious.
He revealed that in one week recently alone, there had been 1,050 complaints.
He was now streamlining procedures so that action could be taken within 48 hours of reports to correct and guard against dangerous online information and activity.
Police action and criminal prosecution will follow
He also promised that anyone linked to such pages and engaged in illicit operations and conduct will also face prompt prosecution by the Technology Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police who will move to arrest culprits linked to such websites and internet activity to enforce the law.
This activity, so far, has seen 8,715 suspicious URLs reported to the ministry and court orders issued for legal action against 7,164 of the entities.
Minister strongly urges student protestors to desist from bringing the monarchy into politics
On Tuesday, the minister came out strongly to warn students, protestors and those involved in an upsurge of protest activity calling for radical political reform in Thailand, to refrain from dragging the subject of the Thai monarchy into the debate.
In recent weeks, the Facebook social network also became the subject of criticism and of a Technology Crime Suppression Division police probe as well as a formal letter from the minister following a blunder by its translation software during coverage of a ceremony to celebrate the King’s birthday on July 28th.
The minister used that occasion to also highlight what he sees as the continued lack of cooperation from the Silicon Valley giant with Thai authorities.
‘Facebook gave little cooperation although it operates a service in Thailand and Thais generate fruitful benefits to the company,’ he said.
Dangers of social media as political divide opens
Mr Buddhipongse was a key leader the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) which led street protests in 2013 and 2014 that eventually led to the overthrow of the democratic government of Yingluck Shinawatra in the 2014 coup.
On Tuesday, he said that it was ‘normal for people to hold different political opinions, but they must not violate the rights of others nor offend the highest institution in the country.’
He said that it was not only the duty of the government to uphold the Monarchy as Thailand’s traditionally revered institution but that it was a duty of the people too.
He warned of the danger of social media which he feared was sowing distrust, lies and hatred in the public’s mind. It was essential, he urged, to avoid damaging the country as there was the real potential for public confrontation.