A Twitter account, @TwitterThailand, that appeared on Wednesday and features the blue “official account” icon has sparked concern and controversy as citizens worry the government is using it to stop freedom of expression.
Restrictions on freedom of expression across social media platforms is a hot topic in Thailand as the government uses vague laws to prosecute and silence people who criticize their actions.
A recent report by Amnesty International titled “They are always watching” says that Thailand ranks 140th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index due to gags put on social media users who post information the government doesn’t like.
There was an example of the dangers of posting online this week as a Phuket resident was arrested and is being detained for a post on his personal Facebook that criticized the covid-19 screening process at Suvarnabhumi airport in March.
The new Twitter account, created by the platform, features information in both Thai and English with the aim of creating a conversation about what is happening around the country according to Twitter Southeast Asia Managing Director, Arvinder Gujral. He said:
“With major news stories […] Twitter usage in Thailand continues to grow across a broad demographic and interest-range incorporating entertainment, music, sports, gaming, food, beauty, and much more.”
However, many believe there is a more sinister purpose to the account and that the Thai Government is using it to find critics and stop freedom of expression online.
The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, however, denies that it has any involvement with the account and was not part of its creation. A source from the ministry said:
“We had no idea about this account and why it was launched. The government uses Twitter to learn about public opinion on state policies. We also use the platform to disseminate accurate news and information.”
Despite government denial, critics are asking why the account was launched now as the government has put off implementing the controversial Personal Data Protection Act for another year.
They also point out that the profile picture of the account bears a strong resemblance to the ruling Palang Pracharath Party colors. However, Twitter claims the colors are simply that of the Thai flag and nothing to do with the government.
The account has already gained more than 13,000 followers.
Source: Bangkok Post