Any public dissent against Thailand’s month-old military coup is being aggressively repressed by the authorities, even if it’s just a “Hunger Games” salute or a man reading George Orwell’s 1984 in a shopping mall. But there is still a free-flowing debate taking place on Facebook, which is wildly popular in the country, with users freely posting videos that lampoon the junta’s “national happiness” campaign.
A short-lived attempt at blocking Facebook last month was met with howls of disapproval from Thais, and when the government attempted to set up a meeting with social media companies like Facebook and Twitter about censoring anti-junta messages, none of the companies showed up.
Still, police have warned that even “liking” an anti-government post is considered a crime. And the junta’s latest tactic is to set up a deceptive Facebook app that harvests users’ personal data.
Whenever Thai internet users attempt to access a web page that has been censored (such as the Human Rights Watch site or the independent news site Prachatai), they are rerouted to a page controlled by the government’s Technology Crime Suppression Division. That page has two blue buttons—one reading “close” and the other offering to “login with Facebook”—that both lead to a page asking users to hand over access to their profile information.
The ultimate consequences of the junta’s Facebook maneuvers may take a while to play out. Norwegian telecom operator Telenor is in the regime’s doghouse for acknowledging that its DTAC subsidiary was forced to briefly block Facebook in late May. Now the Thai junta is threatening to lock DTAC out of the country’s upcoming 4G mobile spectrum auctions, saying it “showed no respect for the difficult situation in Thailand.”