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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs