Govt, army rage at Twitter

Govt, army rage at Twitter

Accounts unfairly shut by media giant

A screenshot of a message by @TwitterSafety about state-linked information operations. The platform says it has uncovered a network of accounts linked to the Royal Thai Army and is closing 926 accounts.
A screenshot of a message by @TwitterSafety about state-linked information operations. The platform says it has uncovered a network of accounts linked to the Royal Thai Army and is closing 926 accounts.

The government and Royal Thai Army (RTA) have slammed Twitter, accusing it of unfairly linking them with nearly 1,000 accounts which the social media giant took down for being propagandist.

Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said yesterday he was surprised that Twitter had shut 926 accounts which it alleged were linked to the RTA's information operations.

He also said Twitter had failed to comply with orders issued by Thai courts to take down accounts which contained defamatory content against the monarchy.

"I call on Twitter to follow the court orders and respect Thai law to show sincerity and transparency in their work,'' the minister said.

Twitter has taken down 926 accounts which it said were linked to the RTA and had been used in information operations.

The American company says Thailand is one of five countries -- the others are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Russia -- linked to 1,594 accounts which it closed after they were found to have been used for state-backed information operations.

The owners of these accounts had violated its policy of forbidding distorted and misleading information, Twitter said.

"Our investigation uncovered a network of accounts partaking in information operations that we can reliably link to the Royal Thai Army (RTA)," Twitter said. "These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behaviour targeting prominent political opposition figures."

"[We will] continue to enforce against small-scale activity associated with this network, as we identify it."

The extent of the army's efforts to paint critics in a negative light and influence public opinion online were detailed in a paper titled "Cheerleading Without Fans" and released on Thursday by the Stanford Internet Observatory.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a social media company has suspended a network of accounts linked to the Royal Thai Army," the website said.

The Stanford report said the army's accounts had very few followers and many never tweeted at all. The most popular account had only 66 followers, it said.

In return, the army yesterday accused Twitter of unfairly linking it with information operations and asked the social media company to clarify the issue.

The army did not have information operations, said Lt Gen Santipong Thammapiya, its spokesman and deputy chief-of-staff.

It only used social media constructively to publicise its activities, especially assistance for people such as storm victims, he said, in particular to speed up rescue and relief operations to help people affected by natural disasters.

Lt Gen Santipong added the army had used Twitter transparently and that information from army units was under the control of a PR company.

"I insist that we do not have a policy to make Twitter avatars for information operations. Our operations to publicise information are transparent," he added.

Col Sirichan Ngathong, a deputy army spokeswoman, said unidentified user accounts had been unfairly linked to the army without any in-depth analysis.

"Unidentified user accounts had nothing to do with any official account of the army. [The Twitter report] focused on quantities, frequencies and hashtags that anyone could do at will," she said.

The army constructively used Twitter accounts to communicate and share genuine information via them, she added, referring to @armypr_news and other official army accounts.

Arunee Kasayanond, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, said Twitter's removal of the accounts showed the government and the army had been engaging in political attacks on people with different political opinions.

She called on the government to share real information and clarify the Twitter issue if it wanted to regain the trust of the public.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, spokesman for the Move Forward Party, said the latest episode showed that military leaders had misled people when they said previously they had not engaged in information operations.

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