As Thailand’s military began to order the shutdown of many websites beginning last week, officials have begun to call upon third-party internet services for help in censoring content it deems dangerous, and users that coordinate protests against the military’s coup. A group comprised of officials from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the police, and the Peace and Order Maintaining Command have been tasked with labeling certain services, users, and content harmful to establishing peace and order. So far, several hundred websites have been shut down. But social content presents a different threat.
VISUAL CONTEXT: INTERNET FREEDOM
Social networks have been the active sites of communication among those who dissent against the military’s replacement of power, and have functioned as the digital gathering places for many who rally in real life against the coup. These networks have now become a primary target of the reigning military junta, and it has asked for help from the likes of Google, Facebook, and Line in filtering content that it deems dangerous to society.
Thai media is reporting that officials from the group formed to censor certain parts of the web are traveling to Singapore and Japan to meet with members of the aforementioned companies to seek their help in filtering parts of their services. Reuters quotes Pisit Pao-In, adviser to the permanent secretary of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry on the effort as well as the long-term effort to create a single gateway of internet into the country that will obviously make it much easier for the military to stem any offending content, even if it’s foreign:
We want to talk to them informally. We do not ask them to install any additional software. We just ask them to help filtering content…We will have a single gateway to monitor inflow and outflow of content on the Internet… The main reason is for security.
All of this effort to gather support from foreign groups seems slightly unnecessary since the government can now demand that native internet service providers shut down certain internet traffic channels. Indeed, Facebook went down in many parts of Thailand on May 28 for an hour according to a Norway-based telecom group that has stake in one of Thailand’s biggest mobile operators. But the junta can’t control the influx of internet through proxy services and virtual private networks — a popular way of gaining access to social sites and other content in countries whose governments block certain internet channels. It will be interesting to see if any of these foreign technology giants decide to lend a hand to the military’s efforts.