Prayut orders probe into army info-ops

Prayut orders probe into army info-ops

FB closes military's social media sites

Winyu Wongsurawat, a TV show host, left, and Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) group, at the Administrative Court.  (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Winyu Wongsurawat, a TV show host, left, and Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) group, at the Administrative Court.  (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday said he had ordered the Defence Ministry to look into allegations made by international media that the military had for political purposes been using social media to covertly influence and exacerbate unrest in the South.

He was responding to a news report by Reuters on Wednesday that said Facebook Inc has taken down 185 accounts and groups engaged in an information-influencing operation (IO) run by the military.

The company said the accounts were linked to the military and targeted audiences in the southern provinces, where conflict has flared on and off for decades as insurgent groups continue a guerrilla war to demand independence, according to Reuters.

It is unclear what the closure of the accounts and groups is likely to entail for the situation in the South.

It also noted that it was the first time Facebook had removed Thai accounts with ties to the government.

"We found clear links between this operation and the military's Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of Cybersecurity Policy, told Reuters.

The network, mainly active in 2020, used both fake accounts and authentic ones to manage groups and pages, including overt military pages and those that did not disclose their affiliations with the military, Mr Gleicher said.

Gen Prayut said the Defence Ministry will have to find out more details and explain the matter to the public to clear up doubts over its information operations.

Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng, meanwhile, said Isoc wasn't aware of Facebook's action as reported.

It understood that those social media accounts removed have nothing to do with Isoc's Facebook account, which is still functioning.

More importantly, he said, Isoc doesn't have any policies pertaining to what the Reuters report accused the Thai military of doing.

Isoc, he said, is responsible for coordinating work needed to help people in areas affected by the southern unrest, he said.

The use of social media by Isoc was only for the timely dissemination of useful information and news to its target audiences and for listening to the public to improve its work to resolve the problems they are facing, he said.

In another development, Sarinee Achavanuntakul, a writer, academic and social critic, Winyu Wongsurawat, a TV show host and Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) group along with a lawyer, Sanya Iadchongdi, petitioned the Administrative Court against the army and army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

They asked the court to issue an injunction against the army to stop its IOs which they believe to be unlawful, delete from the army's database people it had allegedly blacklisted and apologise to the public for past IOs.

According to broadcaster Yingcheep, an investigation by Facebook had found that the armed forces were using IOs to attack the government's political opponents who included journalists, activists and politicians, as well as academics.

He himself was one of the people who have become a target of such IOs.

Previously, former army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong mentioned on Sept 11 last year that he supported the armed forces setting up a cyber unit to cope with what he described as "the online world situation".

Gen Apirat at that time said he gave guidelines on the military cyber unit and supported military personnel with online and social media skills working for the new unit.

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