Internet Censorship of Critial Remarks on the King of Thailand

A recent New York Times article written by Thomas Fuller talks about the  internet censorship of critical regal remarks in Thailand. More specifically, the government of Thailand searches the internet for content that is degrading to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and, once found, blocks the websites and censors the pages. Considering the depth of the internet and new technologies, this is an evidently difficult task requiring a focus on a wide variety of internet sources such as blogs, facebook, personal pages, and internet articles in general. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that many royal insults are done anonymously and are done in clever ways such as via metaphors or even in code.

            Surprisingly, this massive task is undertaken by a team of 10 people working for the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes; however, it has been affectionately entitled the war room. While some might think the task tedious, these ten workers consider their work a calling rather than a profession as they genuinely love the king and want to protect his reputation. In fact, support for the king is extremely high in the country to the point that many consider the king as a god like figure. Hence, it is not surprising that the war room takes its job very seriously.

            As with any form of internet censorship, there is concern on the effect that these regulations will have on civil liberties. This is especially concerning as the definition of what is offensive can vary great. As such, it is only logical to worry about if the government will use this as a way to crack down on undesirables, though it is important to note there is no mention of this actually occurring in the article. Nevertheless, concern is evident. Since implementation, scholars and writers have expressed concern over the policy and the war room receives between 20 and 100 complaints a day. With the 70,000 pages that have already been verified and shut down, it is hard not to be concerned that the war room is abusing its power, especially considering the fact that there can be very broad definitions of what is deemed regally offensive.

For source article, see here.

6 comments

  1. Internet censorship is a very interesting issue. As a largely anonymous and borderless forum, regulation is almost impossible to enforce. From the use of social media in orchestrating the London flash mobs, to the continued suicides resulting from cyberbullying, to military secrets exposed on wikileaks, the content and use of the internet is experiencing increased scrutiny.

    If you are ever feeling good about society or humanity, read some of the posted comments below an online political article. They are callous and meant to offend. The authors are free to vent their maliciousness behind a cloak of anonymity with no repercussions. To excuse this action as protected under the First Amendment is to overlook the effect that it has on the target. Stories such as Tyler Clementi’s and Jamie Rodemeyer’s are becoming more and more frequent. Whatever your stance is on protecting the First Amendment, it is clear that some form of content regulation on the internet is required.

    The other side of the coin is that in an unregulated forum, how can anything be out of bounds? If someone has the ability to post a misspelled hateful rant, is it unjust if someone else has the ability to delete that IP address? Both are forms of communication. This past week I was reading an article on ESPN’s website. The comments at the end had less to do with the substance of the article and more to do with the itchy trigger finger of the “proctor” who was deleting what they felt were offensive remarks or as the comments suggested, anything that painted ESPN in a bad light. Obviously this must be censorship as well. After all, when else am I going to get the opportunity to tell Brett Favre what I really think of him from the safety and security of my anonymous login name.

  2. I think the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes should consider whether their time could be better spent on considering the criticisms of the King and addressing the issues people have stated on their websites. The Office may believe that they are just trying to preserve King Bhumibol Adulyadej image; however, they need consider that some damage has already been done to that image. It is clear that people do not believe that the King is perfect otherwise 70,000 pages would not have been shut down for degrading the King. I think it is important for the citizens of Thailand to feel that they have freedom to say what they want about their leader. Those in positions of power will always be criticized and it is important that they try and learn from those criticisms. The people of Thailand are aware of this censorship and therefore may have even more resentment towards the King knowing that he is suppressing their freedom of speech.

  3. I agree that perhaps it would be influential for the King of Thailand to see (or even read) some of his criticisms. If the King really wants to create a country where people do not criticize him (although this is an impossible task), the King will need to start by addressing what he is currently criticized for. Having the war room remove all of these such criticisms from the internet also removes the chance that the King will ever truly understand what the people of his country do not like about him, and what he may be able to change. Instead of pretending that he is running Thailand perfectly, it would be wise for the King to look into what he can do better, and perhaps one day he may actually run a country where people are less likely to criticize him.

    Additionally, people in Thailand may also grow more and more angry at that fact that they are being censored. Besides for writing more criticisms of the King, this anger could perhaps lead to riots and revolts against the King and his empire. This would prove to be harmful for the country. Instead of letting the problem escalate so far, the King could stop this problem in advance simply by permitting the citizens of Thailand to say what they feel, without censoring them.

  4. While I find it very endearing that the individuals that work in the war room feel that their work is a calling and love the king, I have to wonder if there is any oversight to the pages that they choose to take down and what the parameters of what is “degrading to the king.” The particular aspect that made my ears perk up to possible excess suppression of speech (if there is such a thing) is that often the comments are written in code or metaphors. This, while possibly indicative of creative political dissidents could also be a way to explain things that are taken off the internet with no clear connection to being anti-king.
    An interesting aspect about posting things on the internet is how quickly they become immediately available to everyone with internet access. So despite the work of the team of ten, a single page or post could be seen by thousands before it is detected. In this way, the censored sites can still reach quite an audience before being shut down. This is far different than a book or even a newspaper article that may have been censored in the past which could be pulled from shelves before it is widely disbursed.
    I can also see why, even with this censorship, that the internet is a preferable medium to express political criticisms as Thailand has a 15 year penalty for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen….” This has been used in cases against writers, academics, activists and journalists. In light of this penalty I can see why the anonymity of the internet is preferred.

  5. The Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crime is technically censoring what type of information their citizens can access. If a person in the US wanted to remove these blogs, they could file a lawsuit for their removal only if these statements were false. While individuals in the US are allowed to express their beliefs and opposition to the government, this First Amendment right is not absolute. Instead, the tort of defamation protects individuals that are targets of false speech. A person is liable for defamation when they produce false and unprivileged statements that have a tendency to injure a person in their office, occupation, business or employment.

    Here, if these blogs consist of false statements, then the King’s reputation may be damaged. But in the US, since the King is a public official, he would have to prove that the individual who posted the false statements did this with actual malice. Did that person knowingly or recklessly disregard making a false statement? This standard is very hard to prove.

    But, can this task of removing blogs that injure the reputation of the King by the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crime be considered a remedy to defamation? Yet, even if this removal can be justified solely for that reason, would the US government bypass the judiciary system by removing a blog without a court order?

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