'Big Brother' backfires

'Big Brother' backfires

At 10am this morning, the government's ultimatum to Facebook expires. The US firm has been ordered to remove 131 posts by then. This is the last order in a recent flurry of censorship that ministries say have removed or blocked 6,900 web pages and individual posts across the internet.

At the same time, the military regime has announced another round of high-profile efforts to somehow punish several dozen expatriate Thais, the whole campaign being almost exclusively about allegations of lese majeste.

The campaign by every description -- government, anti-government and interested observers -- has had mixed results for the junta. But it is difficult to see how the military authorities have come out on top.

Within the country, it has been credibly argued that everyone who wanted to see those forbidden internet sites and posts had already done so. Outside, Thailand is drawing increasing attention and criticism for its political prisoners.

Renewed requests have been sent to nine or 10 countries to arrest and return accused Thai citizens. This appears to be a self-defeating move. In the first place, every country where lese majeste suspects live has told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others it never will extradite residents for such a crime.

In Thailand, lese majeste is a serious crime, but everywhere else in the world such a law does not exist. Even close Asean allies Cambodia and Laos have refused to deport one of the country's most prominent lese majeste suspects, Wuthipong "Kotee" Kochathamakun.

The unwelcome attention Thailand has drawn with the Facebook showdown and criminal charges has a name, or more correctly, a meme. In the online world it is known as the Streisand Effect.

It dates back to 2003, when singer Barbra Streisand demanded, futilely, that Google Earth and Google Maps remove her home from their products because it violated her privacy. Because of that, millions of people who previously didn't even care have viewed the satellite photos of the Streisand home.

In general, the Streisand Effect occurs because powerful authority attempts to censor information that previously had interested almost no one. Many previous regimes have noted such an effect, long before it had a name.

The war against Facebook seems particularly controversial. By ordering that the world's largest news publisher remove some 300 individual posts, authorities appear headed on a dangerous course -- dangerous to the country's reputation, that is.

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, along with official internet censors of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), have threatened Facebook with legal action if the posts are not removed this morning.

But the government, courts and the NBTC have no legal authority over Facebook. At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg's company could become a helpless giant if this cyber war escalates, as the government can shut down Facebook here and its Thailand offices.

It has already experimented with how to do that. Facebook's "power" in Thailand comes solely from its success. There are some 25 million Thais who use the service. Almost all of them would resent any tampering with Facebook, let alone a service-wide block like in China.

The regime can reduce its high-profile attacks, and it should do so. The government should remember that 65 million Thais are not responsible for breaking lese majeste laws. The threatened censorship goes beyond what is acceptable to Thai citizens, and to Thailand's reputation.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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