The Thai government has threatened to file charges against Facebook if it doesn’t comply with court orders to block any content it believes is insulting to the monarchy. Since a coup in 2014, the Thai authorities have increasingly cracked down on internet freedom, and Facebook has previously been accused of censoring content that criticizes the regime. The social media company has been given until Tuesday to comply with the most recent orders.
“If even a single illicit page remains, we will immediately discuss what legal steps to take against Facebook Thailand,” said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, according to a report in the Bangkok Post. “Every person must comply with Thai laws, and strictly follow rulings by local courts.”
Facebook has removed 178 of 309 posts on the criminal court’s blacklist. The remaining 131 posts need to be removed by 10 a.m. local time Tuesday May 16, or the Ministry for Digital Economy will file a complaint with the police against the company’s operation in Thailand.
Thailand lèse-majesté laws effectively prevent citizens from openly discussing anything to do with members of the monarchy. Enforcement of these laws has increased in recent months following the death of the much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the ascension to the throne of his controversial son King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.
Last week it emerged that Facebook had been forced to block an embarrassing video of Vajiralongkorn dressed in a crop-top while shopping in a mall in Germany — where he spends most of his time.
Facebook is geoblocking this video of Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn so users in Thailand can't see it pic.twitter.com/QAE2SNr2KY
— Andrew MacG Marshall (@zenjournalist) May 5, 2017
When asked Thursday about the latest threats made by the Thai government, a Facebook spokesperson told VICE News that the company had nothing to add beyond the statement it issued last week in relation to the blocked video of the king.
At the time, Facebook said: “When governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook and ask us to restrict access to that content.”
It is unclear what charges the Thai government could bring against Facebook if it fails to comply with the court orders in time. According to the guidelines of Thailand’s new Computer Crimes law, Facebook would be liable for fines — which would be puny in comparison to the company’s revenue — but there is also the possibility that Facebook’s regional manager could be arrested and jailed.
“It’s probable that this is all just a bluff by the Thai agencies, who need to show that they have tried to do their best to do something, but we really don’t know,” Andrew Marshall, a journalist and a vocal critic of the Thai regime, told VICE News.
Coincidentally, Facebook is currently looking for a head of public policy in Thailand.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS