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Thailand faces economic costs of social media censorship

Vision of vibrant '4.0 economy' could founder amid official crackdown on internet freedoms

| Thailand
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Student activists are detained during a silent protest after Thailand's election commission filed charges against a group for posting "foul and strong" comments online criticising a military-backed draft constitution, in Bangkok on April 27.   © Reuters

Recent moves by Thailand's military-backed government to tighten controls over social media are as much an international investor issue as a domestic political concern. Since it seized power in May 2014, the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has frequently encroached on basic rights and has challenged dissenting voices, sometimes detaining people for days under the pretext of "attitude adjustment." But as the digital era has gained momentum, the junta has increasingly trained its sights on social media.

The most alarming harbinger of more tensions ahead centers on the government's current showdown with Facebook over more than 300 posts it deems sensitive to the country's monarchy, in violation of the country's Computer Crimes Act and lese-majeste law. So far, Facebook has complied with 178 of the 309 requests to remove content, demanding a court order in each case. While the government's battle with social media sites is unlikely to end there, the chilling effects on business operations have begun to reverberate in the form of cost considerations and perceptions of a growing Thailand risk premium.

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