HONG KONG — Social networking giant Facebook is under pressure from Thailand’s government on Tuesday to remove dozens of pages from its servers, a few weeks after a video that appears to show the country’s new king walking through a shopping mall in a crop top was widely shared on the site.
According to NYT, hte standoff is the latest sign of a clampdown on online speech by a military junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, and the latest test for Facebook, which has struggled to balance local laws and cultural expectations with its core identity as a network where people are free to share ideas and news.
It may also be a gauge of how aggressively the junta plans to enforce an existing lèse-majesté law — which makes it a crime to insult the king, the queen or the crown prince — under new leadership.
“The government’s moves to restrict Facebook indicate that it is solidifying ideologically around the monarchy, making it the cornerstone of its overall efforts to stem political freedom,” said David Streckfuss, the author of the book “Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté.”
The Bangkok Post reported earlier that the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) may disconnect access to Facebook’s servers.
It cited an email purportedly sent from Tispa to the managing director of Facebook Thailand warning that if the company did not remove all 131 pages, “concerned authorities will request that we shut down” access to the site.
“This action may affect the entire delivery services of www.facebook.com to customers in Thailand,” Tispa wrote, according to the Bangkok Post.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company reviewed requests by governments to restrict access to content. “When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content, reports The Guardian.
“If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted.”
The Thai government has not publicly released details of the posts it wanted removed.
Several images and a video appearing to show the Thai king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, wearing a crop top and covered in tattoos have been published on social media in recent weeks.
Facebook opened an office in Thailand in 2015 and is the biggest social network in the country.
The military-run administration briefly cut access to Facebook after it launched a coup on 22 May 2014.
Most social media monitoring companies predict the number of users in Thailand has grown significantly since then.
The firm has previously said it carefully scrutinises requests made by governments wanting to restrict content.
If it determines the content does violate local laws, it makes it unavailable in the country and notifies people who try to access it.
In May 2014, days after the military coup, Thailand blocked access to Facebook, with the Information Communications Technology Ministry saying the order came from the military. The military denied this.
The military government has increased censorship of online content since coming to power – especially criticism of the royal family.
Last month it banned Thais making any contact or sharing content from three outspoken critics of the monarchy.