Thailand’s ongoing political strife has officially become bad news for the internet. In February, the protests that had been raging throughout Bangkok and other parts of the country began to affect the telecom market as users began to defect from a telecom company associated with the Shinawatra family, having been founded by the now-ousted PM Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra. But the coup that has most recently occurred has put the military in power, and active efforts are now being made to shutter large sections of the internet in the country.
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As the army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seizes control of the government — saying the army has to restore order and push through reforms — two days after he declared martial law, authorities have begun to shut down some websites. A group has been formed, comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the police, and the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The group has vowed to shut down websites immediately, arbitrarily deeming any worthy of blackout.
Thakorn Tanthasit, a commissioner for the NBTC, has stated to the media:
This is to ask for cooperation to monitor content which may affect peace and order. THIS IS NOT CENSORSHIP AT ALL, but a blockade of only content or websites which may contravene to public morality and cause conflict and unrest and threat to national security.
The NBTC has called out Thai internet service providers for assistance in the shutting down of websites. Prachatai — a non-profit online news outlet in Thailand — has published that authorities have begun the swift shut down of some sites with the intention to continue to black out possibly hundreds more, aiming to do so within one hour of the announcement.
Social media is also a target for the internet control group. The authorities have publicly asked for help from U.S.-based social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as Japan-based Line for help in stemming online communication. (It’s a safe bet to make that those web giants will not be aiding in the new blockage activities.) The Thai PBS publication reported that on May 20th the POMC publicly asked social media operators and webmasters to cease publishing content deemed “provocative, inciting violence, unreliable or in violation of the law.” Some satellite TV stations have also had their operations suspended.
Of course, content providers and other websites that host their content outside Thailand’s borders will not be affected.