Facebook Plans Legal Action Against Thai Government for ‘Chilling Effect’ on Free Speech

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million …
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Facebook recently blocked access within Thailand to a group with over 1 million members that criticized the country’s monarchy, now the social media site plans to take legal action against the government’s demands that Facebook block the group. Facebook, which has censored posts by President Donald Trump, complains that the Thai government has a “chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves.”

CNBC reports that tech giant Facebook recently blocked access within Thailand to a group with over 1 million members that was critical of the country’s monarchy. Now, the social media platform plans to mount a legal challenge to the Thai government’s demand that it block the group.

The situation arises during a time of great unrest in Thailand as almost daily youth-led protests against the Thai government led by the former military junta chief continue across the country, with many demanding unprecedented calls for reform of the monarchy. The group blocked by Facebook was known as the “Royalist Marketplace” and was created in April by a self-exiled academic and critic of the monarchy named Pavin Chachavalpongpun.

On Monday night, visiting the group showed a message which stated: “Access to this group has been restricted within Thailand pursuant to a legal request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.”

Pavin was critical of Facebook’s move, claiming that the social media network bowed to pressure from the Thai government. “Our group is part of a democratization process, it is a space for freedom of expression,” Pavin told Reuters. “By doing this, Facebook is cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”

Pavin created a new group under the same name as the now-blocked one, it reached 455,000 members on Tuesday. Facebook said that it plans to legally challenge the Thai government after it was “compelled” to block the group.

“Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”

Unde Thailand’s “Lese Majeste” laws, defaming the king is illegal with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and is often the basis for requests to block or remove content from social media. Thailand’s digital minister accused Facebook earlier this month of not complying with requests to restrict content.

The minister gave Facebook 15 days to comply with court takedown orders or face charges under the local Computer Crime Act which carries a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,367.40) and an additional 5,000 baht ($159.18) per day until each order is observed.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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