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Facebook, YouTube block access in Thailand to 1,800 pages

Broadcast regulator backs off, says both parties are 'collaborative'

Thai regulator Takorn Tantasith told reporters Aug. 7 that penalties will not be imposed on social media companies or internet service providers at present.

BANGKOK -- Thailand's telecom regulator is satisfied with Facebook and YouTube after the social media companies blocked access from Thailand to over 1,800 pages over the past three months -- although this is only about half the number deemed illegal under local laws.

Under Thai law, illegal pages include those that are offensive to the monarchy, threaten national security, contain sexual content, or promote gambling.

Backtracking on previous threats, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission said on Monday that it will not impose penalties on social media companies or internet service providers because of "collaborative" efforts on all sides.

The NBTC has pressured internet companies over problematic content in recent months, and threatened to ban websites that do not comply with local laws. This has provoked controversy in a country with some of world's most active users of Facebook and YouTube.

"If we receive a government request like this, we would review it carefully, and we might restrict access to that content in the relevant country," a Facebook spokesperson responded. For example, Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany and if any page including such content is reported by "a body that is authorized under the laws of the country," it would be restricted.

"Similarly, there is content that may be illegal in Thailand only due to its specific lese-majeste laws, and we would handle that similarly," the spokesperson said.

The NBTC has toned down earlier statements, and extended a mid-May deadline so that legal evidence such as court orders could be furnished. Last week, the regulator told reporters that most of the 3,726 pages identified with problematic content were still accessible from Thailand. If this continued beyond Aug. 7, internet service providers were threatened with license suspensions or cancelations by Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC's secretary general.

As of Monday, the latest deadline, 1,834 pages were confirmed as blocked. Takorn said the blame for the shortfall fell on the regulator's side, since not all relevant documents had been translated into English and forwarded. Facebook and YouTube had complied "100%" blocking pages with the proper paperwork, he said.

"YouTube said they are confused about why news came out that they have not been cooperative," said Takorn. "In fact, they have fully cooperated with us. They said we should submit the remaining court orders for them to proceed."

Takorn did not go into further details, but said that he will report to Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong and await further instructions.

Thailand has the harshest law of lese-majeste in the world, carrying jail terms of up to 15 years for offenses against the monarchy. The military government which seized power in May 2014 has stepped up efforts to regulate social media following the death in October of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the accession of his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

A university student was arrested in December for sharing on Facebook a Thai-language profile by the BBC of the new king. The student has filed unsuccessfully for bail eight times already.

Thailand was reported to have the ninth largest number of Facebook users by nationality in April with 47 million, according to marketing agency We Are Social. 

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