Facebook blocks access to group criticizing Thailand king after government threat

By | August 24, 2020

In the episode of this week “Does the social network keep it up or take it down? “This time in Thailand, we have Facebook wading into another thorny moderating situation. After being harassed by the Thai government for breaching local laws around defaming the ruling king, the company has withdrawn a Facebook group of more than 1 million members according to a study from The Guardian.

In April, academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a critic of the Thai government and its king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who now lives in Japan, founded the party, named “Royalist Marketplace.” The group was however limited on Monday based on a legal request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand. The group was committed to debating Vajiralongkorn and over the past four months, it had accrued more than one million members, the study reports.

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Thailand has rules against the king being punishable with up to 15 years in prison, reports The Guardian. The government on August 10 gave Facebook about two weeks under the country’s Computer Crime Act, a notorious piece of legislation passed in 2016, to comply with its removal order or face fines of about $6,300 a day.

“Our community is part of a phase of democratization, it’s an environment of freedom of speech,” Pavin said in an interview with Reuters. “In doing so, Facebook is working with the repressive government to hinder democracy in Thailand and promote authoritarianism.”

Facebook has not replied to a comment request.

These are challenging conversations, and there are no easy responses. But the response from the organization isn’t all that shocking. Facebook has long prided itself as a bastion for free expression — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company is seeking to find a middle path between moderating the site as a free-for-all unrestricted expression that could cause real-world damage and a censorious liability that violates civil and human rights. He’s also evoked China’s threat as a reason why Facebook tends not to act on speech when many critics believe it should.

But in fact, it has also been seen by Facebook to avoid taking decisions that would weaken it politically. This is also willing to censor and protect local governments rather than incur financial fines or, worse, to shut down access to the website in a foreign country, amid possible abuses of human rights that could emerge as a disastrous episode in Myanmar, where military leaders used hate speech on Facebook to support their real-world genocide of the Muslim Rohingya people minority

In the US, this has been carried out in the form of top Facebook executives such as policy manager Joel Kaplan directly interfering in third-party fact-checks to ensure conservative pages are not getting suspensions or bans from individuals. It has also recently been shown that one of the company’s Indian policy lobbyists, Ankhi Das, has given preferential treatment to politicians belonging to India’s ruling regime party, some of whom have been peddling dangerous hate speeches against Muslims. Having been criticized by a journalist for posting a connection to a Wall Street Journal article on Twitter, Das lodged a criminal complaint with him and five others, alleging that their comments threatened her.

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