Thailand is set to open its first cyber security centre to combat fake news, becoming the latest Asian country to push for greater cyber scrutiny. In what activists fear is a smokescreen for targeting critics.
The Anti-Fake News Centre will start work on Friday using artificial intelligence and trained human monitors. It will flag posts on everything from health care to government policies, digital economy and society minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said.
“Every country faces the issue of fake news … especially Thai people,” Buddhipongse said, after explaining the initiative to prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth seized power in a 2014 coup, muzzling dissent for several years with special laws. He became civilian prime minister after tainted polls in March.
Rights groups say his administration is still stifling dissents while keeping a close eye on public discussion.
Almost 80 per cent of online or social media posts are false and also misleading, Buddhipongse added.
Users can submit tip-offs
The new centre has a Facebook page, Line messaging group and website, where examples of its findings will be published and where users can submit tip-offs.
The former junta banned gatherings of more than five people and arrested hundreds for violating new restrictions.
While the ban was lifted advocates say freedom of expression has barely improved.
The head of Thailand’s army has railed against fake news and online propaganda, calling it a form of hybrid warfare.
Buddhipongse rebuffed allegations by civil society that the new centre would be one-stop-shop for monitoring dissent.
“We don’t focus only on politics and other people that oppose the government.”
But Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said it was also tool for censorship.
“A chokehold on free expression in Thailand is tightening even further,” he told SCMP.
Free Speech Being Stifled
Free speech campaigners have grown alarmed over the spread of government-led efforts to combat fake news.
A law against fake news came into force in Singapore this month, providing for hefty fines and even jail terms in extreme cases.
In Vietnam there has also been an uptick in arrests for online posts since a controversial cybersecurity bill was passed in January, according to Amnesty International.
In a rare bright spot for advocates this month Malaysian lawmakers voted to repeal fake news legislation