Thai government equates criticism of authorities with fake news

On Friday, Thai authorities opened a center of state control over a “wide range of online content.” The country’s prime minister equated public criticism of the government, the military, or the royal family with cybercrime. Criticism of power is now considered to be fake news.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hai government officials believe that digital technology will boost domestic political tension after the March elections, in which the leader of the junta, which seized power in the country in 2014, was appointed as civilian prime minister.

“Thailand has recently pressed more cybercrime charges for what it says is misinformation affecting national security. Such content is mostly opinion critical of the government, the military or the royal family”, — writes Reuters.

Minister of Digital Economy Puttipong Punnakanta defined fake news as “any viral online content that misleads people or damages the country’s image.”

He made no distinction between unintentional and deliberate misinformation.

Puttipong Punnakanta

Puttipong Punnakanta

“The center is not designed to support the government or individuals / The center is built as an operational headquarters that tracks the latest “fake new” and trending hashtags Twitter”, – Puttipong Punnakanta told reporters.

At the same time, the center employs about 30 officers who view online content compiled using the “social listening” tools on a wide range of topics: natural disasters, economics, health products and illicit goods.

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According to Puttipong, employees will also focus on news about government policies and content that generally affects “peace, order, good morals and national security.”

Human rights organizations and proponents of media freedom are concerned that the government could use the center as a tool for censorship and propaganda.

“In the Thai context, the term ‘fake news’ is being weaponized to censor dissidents and restrict our online freedom”, — said Emilie Pradichit, director of the Thailand-based Manushya Foundation, which advocates for online rights.

Emilie Pradichit also added that this step can be used to codify censorship and the center will allow the government to be the “sole arbiter of the truth.”

[box]Transparency reports from Internet companies such as Facebook and Google show that the Thai government’s requests to remove content or block the transmission of certain information have increased since the seizure of power in 2014.[/box]

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