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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid