Be careful what news you share on social media, Thailand officially opened the “anti-fake news” center on Friday. Thailand’s latest effort to exert government control over a sweeping range of online content.
The move came as Thailand is counting on the digital economy to drive growth amid domestic political tensions. Following a controversial March election that installed its coup leader as a civilian prime minister.
Thailand has recently pressed more cyber-crime charges for what it says is misinformation affecting national security. Such content is mostly opinion critical of the government, the military and also the royal family.
Minister of Digital Economy and Society Puttipong Punnakanta broadly defined “fake news” as any viral online content that misleads people or damages the country’s image. He made no distinction between non-malicious false information and deliberate disinformation.
Anti-Fake News Center not Political Tool
“The center is not intended to be a tool to support the government or any individual,” Puttipong said.
The center is set up like a war room. The war room has monitors and charts the tracking of the latest “fake news” and trending Twitter hashtags.
It is staffed by around 30 officers at one time, who will review online content. Gathering information through “social listening” tools.
The officers will also target news about government policies and content. Any content that affects “peace and order, good morals, and national security,” Puttipong told Reuters.
If they suspect something is false, they will flag it to relevant authorities. They will then issue corrections through the center’s social media platforms and website and also through the press.
Tool for Censorship and Propaganda
Rights groups and media freedom advocates are also concerned the government will 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 also restrict our online freedom,” said Emilie Pradichit, director of the Thailand-based Manushya Foundation, which above all advocates for online rights.
Pradichit said the move could be used to codify censorship, adding the center would allow the government to be the “sole arbiter of truth”.
Transparency reports from internet companies such as Facebook and Google show Thai government requests to take down content or turn over information have also ramped up since the military seized power in 2014.
A law prohibiting criticism of the monarchy has also been the basis for such requests for Facebook. In Google’s cases, government criticism was the main reason cited for removal of content.