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Thailand takes first legal action against Facebook, Twitter over content

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Facebook in August blocked access within Thailand to a group with 1 million members that discusses the country’s king, after the government threatened legal action over failure to take down content deemed defamatory to the monarchy. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Thailand began legal action on Thursday against Facebook and Twitter

 for ignoring requests to take down content, in its first such move against major internet firms.

The digital ministry filed legal complaints with cybercrime police after the two social media companies missed 15-day deadlines to fully comply with court-issued takedown orders from August 27, according to Puttipong Punnakanta, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society.

No action was taken against Alphabet’s Google as originally suggested, as the internet search giant took down on Wednesday all the YouTube videos specified in the order, Puttipong said.

“This is the first time we’re using the Computer Crime Act to take action against platforms for not complying with court orders,” Puttipong told reporters. “Unless the companies send their representatives to negotiate, police can bring criminal cases against them. But if they do, and acknowledge the wrongdoing, we can settle on fines.”

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Puttipong Punnakanta, Thailand's Minister of Digital Economy and Society, says the government will file more takedown requests to Facebook, Twitter and Google. Photo: Reuters

The digital minister did not disclose details of the content or say what laws had been violated. The complaints were against the US parent companies and not their Thai subsidiaries, he said.

The ministry will file more such takedown requests to Facebook, Twitter and Google, asking them to remove more than 3,000 items from their platforms, with content ranging from pornography to criticism of the monarchy, according to Puttipong.

Twitter declined to comment, while Facebook and Google did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Thailand has tough lèse-majesté laws that prohibit insulting the monarchy. The Computer Crime Act, which outlaws the uploading of information that is false or affects national security, has also been used to prosecute online criticism of the royal family.

In recent years, Thai authorities have filed court orders with requests to social media platforms to restrict or remove perceived royal insults and other illegal content like gambling or copyright violations.

Under the Act, ignoring a court order can result in a fine of up to 200,000 baht (US$6,347), then 5,000 baht per day until the order is observed.

The digital ministry also filed separate cybercrime complaints against five people who it said criticised the monarchy on Facebook and Twitter during a major anti-government demonstration at the weekend, Puttipong said.