Thailand has become the first country to publicly endorse Twitter’s plans to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis, meaning that anybody wanting to insult the Royal Family had better get a move on.
Thailand’s lese majeste laws last year contributed to more than 10,000 Facebook takedown requests, as well as the 2006 blockage of YouTube. Lasgt year, a Thai-American was jailed for translating a banned biography of the king, and it’s already illegal to ‘like’ or ‘share’ sites that are deemed to insult the monarchy.
Human Rights Watch says it’s concerned about the severity of penalties for lese majeste offenses, with Asia Director Brad Adams commenting: “The new government seems to be responding to questions about its loyalty to the monarchy by filing countless lese majeste charges.”
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the government’s enthusiastic about Twitter’s plans.
While Information and Communication Technology permanent secretary Jeerawan Boonperm has told the Bangkok Post that it has ‘good cooperation’ from internet companies, she described Twitter’s plans as a ‘welcome development’.
She said her ministry would shortly contact Twitter to discuss how the feature can be implemented.
As things stand, it seems possible to circumvent the censorship simply by giving Twitter a false location. The company uses a user’s IP address to establish their country – but allows the user to change this via account settings to a country where no censorship is taking place. However, this loophole is unlikely to be allowed to remain.
Users can also use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country.
A simpler solution will be to avoid key words that could start ringing alarm bells. This sort of thing is difficult to monitor – although Pakistan, for example, is trying. It recently asked telecoms providers to block SMS messages containing words and phrases including ‘deposit’ and ‘flogging the dolphin’.
Repressive regimes around the world are likely to welcome the new censorship feature.
“People have voiced concerns that ‘if you build it, they will come’ – if you build a tool for state-by-state censorship, states will start to use it,” says the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“We should remain vigilant against this outcome.”