News / Asia

SE Asia Governments Appear to Squelch Social Media Commentary

A man uses his computer in a coffee shop in Shanghai, (File photo).
A man uses his computer in a coffee shop in Shanghai, (File photo).
China's suppression of public comment on political and other topics on social media is well known. Some Southeast Asian nations appear to be moving to emulate China in this regard.

Warnings from authorities and new regulations in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam may have some users of social media thinking twice about what they post or even click "Like" on the popular Facebook site.

Thailand has 15 million Facebook users, more than one-fifth of the country's population. And an estimated 40 percent of Vietnamese are now on the internet, with the surge in smartphones. Social media sites such as Facebook and Zing Me each have an estimated 12 million users in Vietnam.  

Amid the surge in commentary on social media, governments in the region, according to Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, are seeking to emulate China's success with controlling online discourse.

"Many of these Southeast Asian countries -- and we're talking about the likes of Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia -- are increasingly copying some of China's techniques and methods to suppress online freedoms and increasingly into social media spaces, as well," said Crispin.

Sermsuk Kasitipradit, senior editor, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, VOA/Steve Herman, Aug. 27, 2013.Sermsuk Kasitipradit, senior editor, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, VOA/Steve Herman, Aug. 27, 2013.
x
Sermsuk Kasitipradit, senior editor, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, VOA/Steve Herman, Aug. 27, 2013.
Sermsuk Kasitipradit, senior editor, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, VOA/Steve Herman, Aug. 27, 2013.
Sermsuk Kasitipradit, a high profile Thai journalist popularly known by his blogger name "Pepsi," is one of several people recently singled out by authorities for questioning over his Facebook postings. The senior news editor at Thai PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) says police are trying to make an example out of him by an unprecedented application of the Computer Crime Act of 2007.

"I myself believe that it is some kind of intimidation for the people using social media. It never before happened in Thailand," he said.

Sermsuk said his online postings in question should have eased the concerns of authorities because he was knocking down rumors about another possible military coup in Thailand. He noted on Facebook that all previous successful coups had relied on the support of the army's commander. "So I made it clear in my posting that this kind of thing won't happen, you don't worry," he asserted. "The army commander would, no way, get himself involved in this kind of act."

Thai authorities have also been warning the public that sharing someone else's online comments or even clicking 'Like' on their Facebook posting could have them also facing the same punishment if the original comment is deemed illegal. Sermsuk disagrees.

"I think that is insane. This kind of thing should not happen because social media should be the way that the people should freely express their opinion, even on political issues," explained Sermsuk.

Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists says Thailand, amid increasing political polarization, has yet to actually arrest anyone for endorsing someone else's online comments. "Thailand could find itself in the league of some of the worst internet violators in the world if this actually were to come to pass," he said.

The Technology Crime Suppression Division of the Thai police has also expressed the intention to monitor the country's most popular chat site, Line, a Japanese spinoff of a South Korean company, with 15 million users in Thailand.  

An editorial in the Bangkok newspaper Nation  said "it would be a travesty" if the government initiated such surveillance.

The focus in Vietnam is on the just-enacted Decree 72, which appears to ban posting any news articles on blogs or social websites. The law also requires such popular international online services as Google, Facebook and Yahoo to maintain local computer servers inside the country.

Crispin notes the decree, which calls for postings on Twitter, Facebook and other sites to be limited to exchanges of personal information, could lead to the services being blocked in Vietnam.

"Some of our research shows, interestingly, that certain government agencies are actually now developing possible alternatives, local language alternatives, to Facebook, to Google which if these services are formally banned they're obviously going to hope to fill the space with these local platforms that have been government developed and, obviously, will be government controlled and monitored. So it looks like we're headed toward a certain confrontation between these international technology companies and Vietnamese authorities," Crispin noted.

Vietnam, which has a one-party political system, has jailed dozens of bloggers this year charged with anti-state activities.

Thailand strictly enforces laws forbidding criticism of its royal family, both online and offline.

In Malaysia, despite a government pledge of no online censorship, internet users are complaining that certain websites, Facebook accounts and other platforms are being filtered and visitors to them placed under cyber surveillance.

Pending cybercrime legislation in the Philippines is being criticized for threatening free speech.

Burma (also known as Myanmar) was, until recently, infamous for jailing bloggers, journalists and poets. Democratic reforms have led to internet service providers unblocking Facebook, which has emerged as a popular platform for bloggers and disseminating news.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid