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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid