Bows to pressure, but vows to fight back . . .
Facebook is taking legal action after the Thai government ordered it to partially shut down Royalist Marketplace, a million-member group critical of the Thai monarchy. On Monday, the social media giant bowed to government pressure and blocked Thai users from accessing the group. However, it later declared that such requests “contravene international human rights law” and said that it would ask a Thai court to revoke the order. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who came to power after the 2014 coup d’état, said that the government’s action complies with Thai law.
Lèse-majesté and the elephant in the room . . .
Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law criminalizes insults to the monarchy, with offences punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Since 2014, the law has increasingly been used as a political tool to silence criticism and dissent. However, amidst growing calls for constitutional reform by a student-led anti-government movement, the once-taboo topic of the monarchy’s role in Thai politics has surfaced in public debates. Protestors say their “dream” is to bring the monarchy under the purview of the constitution. They argue that far from being above politics, the king has repeatedly endorsed coups and sided with the military government – making it nearly impossible to sustain democracy.
Democratic gains at the mercy of tech giants . . .
While Facebook claims that it works to protect and defend the rights of all internet users, the company is under fire for enabling the spread of hate speech and misinformation – often with devastating consequences. From stoking ethnic violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to letting authoritarian tendencies go unchecked in the Philippines and India, there is no shortage of examples of the damage done by social media platforms in countries that are backsliding on democracy. The Thailand case will be watched by many to see whether Facebook sticks to its stated principles in the face of political pressure in the countries where it operates.
- New Naratif (podcast): Thailand’s defiant youth
- Prachatai: Royalist marketplace returns
- Brookings: Democracy disconnected: Social media’s caustic influence on Southeast Asia’s fragile republics