In Thailand, strict lèse-majesté laws have brought a flag-bearer of free speech to its knees.
For more than a century now, the southeast Asian country’s laws have been protecting the ruling family from defamation, insults and threats. Mocking the monarchy in Thailand is punishable by up to 15 years in jail and the authorities go to great lengths to remove all potentially embarrassing and unfavorable depictions of the country’s rulers. Their latest target? The world’s largest social network.
Thai authorities instructed Facebook to take down a video showing Thailand’s 64-year-old King Maha Vajiralongkorn strolling in a Munich shopping mall in a yellow crop top that exposed his fake tattoos, with a woman by his side. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a prominent Thai historian and critic of the monarchy who fled to France in the aftermath of the May 2014 coup, shared the 44-second clip at issue. The Facebook post from April has garnered more than 461,000 views.
It was filmed by a Thai citizen in Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016—months before the now-king ascended the throne in December, seven weeks after the death of his father, revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October after reigning for seven decades.
One could argue the clip didn’t damage his reputation. “Playboy prince” Vajiralongkorn was already known as a philanderer with multiple wives and mistresses. Stories of him stripping his own children of their names, privileges and their homeland have long circulated. However, this is all muted chatter in the country. The military junta doesn’t legally allow anyone to air Vajiralongkorn’s dirty laundry in public—not even on the open internet.
As of Tuesday (May 16), Facebook ended up geo-blocking the clip in the Thailand region. (It was still available in the US.) The flag-bearer of free speech had to bow down to unreasonably stringent laws. “When governments believe that something on the Internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook and ask us to restrict access to that content. When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content,” Facebook said in a statement to NYMag. “If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted.”
The Thai government is not fully satisfied, though. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), claimed that Facebook had only removed 178 of the 309 posts Thai authorities had deemed offensive—131 were still accessible in Thailand. So, the government has decided to sue the social network, according to the Telegraph. (Facebook did not respond to Quartz’s request for comment on any legal action.)
“If even a single illicit page remains, we will immediately discuss what legal steps to take against Facebook Thailand,” Takorn said.