Facebook Faces Shutdown Threat In Thailand

The military regime in Thailand has threatened Facebook to censor 131 posts or lose Thai users.

The Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) says it is under government pressure to immediately shut down the all access to Facebook as early as Tuesday morning, over the social medium’s refusal to take down every post dictated.

Tispa said it could disconnect the content delivery network (CDN) originating Facebook’s server if the social media giant fails to meet Tuesday’s 10am deadline set by the government to remove illicit URLs or posts from its site.

The CDN is a system of distributed servers that deliver web content to a user based on the user’s geographical location and the origin of the webpage.

Tispa and internet gateway providers (IIG), sent an email to the managing director of Facebook Thailand on Friday with the request.

“If the relevant Thai authorities find any illegal content from www.facebook.com in our system – particularly the 131 URLs which have not yet been removed – concerned authorities will request that we shut down the CDN of www.facebook.com and other parts of the network to block such illegal content.

“This action may affect the entire delivery services of www.facebook.com to customers in Thailand,” Tispa said in the email.

According to Tispa, Thai authorities have demanded Facebook remove 131 separate Facebook posts which they deemed illegal. The Criminal Court has signed orders to take down the posts, otherwise the Thai unit of the US social media giant will face legal action.

The regime cut access to Facebook shortly after the May 22, 2014, although it denied the action. The brief Facebook outage was deemed at the time to be a test.

Then on May 6, a still-mysterious service outage cut millions of internet users off sections of the internet – especially Google, its Gmail service and the video site YouTube. Explanations provided by three internet companies of maintenance problems are almost universally disbelieved.

The government, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha personally, has called for a single internet gateway for the country in order to make monitoring easier.

On Monday, the junta-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) hrtcalled on Gen Prayut to use his Section 44 powers to immediately set up a cyber committee that would the military and others to access every cyber network and connected computer in the country, without court authorisation.

Monday’s threat to shut down Facebook completely is a vivid contrast with September, 2015, when Facebook opened its Thai office. At that time, Facebook’s vice-president for Asia-Pacific, Dan Neary, was ecstatic about the move into Thailand.

Thais are the most active social network users in Southeast Asia, he said. They spend an average of 2.35 hours per day on Facebook, 1.5 times higher than watching TV.

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“In Thailand, the number of postings is three times higher than the average for the Facebook population globally,” said Mr Neary.

But now, according to the internet providers of Tispa, the government has no interest in taking legal action, and is prepared to shut down Facebook entirely.

This would be a massive escalation of the battle over what the government has declared illegal posts on the internet, especially web pages and social media posts deemed to have defamed the high institution.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) last Thursday gave Facebook until 10am Tuesday to remove the remaining illegal posts on its site.

As of Friday, Facebook had removed 178 of 309 posts singled out by the regime and counter-signed by the Court. That leaves 131 Facebook posts still accessible in Thailand.

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said that as of 4pm Monday, Facebook appeared to have blocked more posts, and the number of “illicit webpages” (the term used by the regime) was less than 100.

“Facebook has cooperated with Thai authorities and Tispa. However, we have learned that some issues have not been solved yet,” said Mr Takorn.

Mr Takorn added that Facebook has been trying to keep up with blocking illicit posts upon court orders but there is still other content available that has been deemed illegal under the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) orders which Facebook has been hesitant to remove.

Facebook’s declared policy is to leave all disputed posts intact. But it blocks access to single posts to users in Thailand on a case by case basis if the posts are clearly illegal in Thai law, and ordered by the Criminal Court.

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