In an effort to suppress disparaging remarks about the monarchy, the government of Thailand has recently established an official agency called the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes. The sole purpose of this department is to enforce the country’s lèse-majesté laws by combing the Internet for anything offensive to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family and then either eliminating or blocking the offensive material.
Agency technicians have apparently blocked over 70,000 pages so far, including those with pictures of the king with a foot above his head (considered very rude) and those that misuse informal pronouns before the king’s name.
Punishment for such disrespect for authority can be harsh. Under Thai law, even the digital distribution of information that threatens the “good morals of the people” will get you five years in prison. For anyone who insults or defames the royal family, sentences can stretch to 15 years.
I am always surprised at the lengths to which repressive regimes will go in order to “safeguard” the sensibilities of its citizens while trying to maintain the openness and flexibility of the Internet. I’m even more surprised at this particular effort to shield a grown man from the forms of mild online abuse and disagreements that confront other world leaders every day.
This kind of experience can certainly be frustrating. However, is white-washing the Internet really the answer? Is it even possible? Wouldn’t everyone’s time be better spent teaching the king to deal with a few negative comments rather than censoring the entire Web? I understand the desire for people to protect someone they love from getting hurt but, in the long run, such heavy-handed tactics will probably fail. The Internet is just too irrepressible.
In an old discussion of online ethics, Simon Waldman notes:
“I find the views expressed on many organizations’ sites repellent. But one of the greatest achievements of the Internet has been to create the greatest gallery of human opinion in history, and that is something we should marvel at, rather than shake our heads in dismay.”
Would the people of Thailand deny their king access to such a place?
BTW: Sawatdee-krap, Mr. Surachai
- December 8, 2011 – 2.5 years for posting a link to an unauthorized biography of the king … the guy got off light! (Link: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/08/world/asia/thailand-american-insults/index.html?hpt=hp_t2)
- December 8, 2011 – … and he wasn’t even Thailand when he posted the info. Note to self: do NOT travel to Thailand. (Link: http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/08/9291930-american-jailed-for-insulting-thai-king-while-living-in-colorado)
- October 13, 2016 – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-13/king-bhumibol-of-thailand-longest-reigning-monarch-dies-at-88