In this case, that would mean censoring messages that fall afoul of the kingdom’s draconian lèse-majesté laws, which have been used increasingly harshly in recent years – most recently, against an underage college student and an elderly man with cancer. He allegedly sent four text messages insulting the king, and was given twenty years in jail, even though the government couldn’t prove he had actually sent the messages.
The decision isn’t a major shock for Thailand; the governments of both the previous Democrat party and even the current Puea Thai party have been pouring ever-more resources into hunting for online content supposedly defaming the king. Thai leaders seem to have little understanding of how these witch-hunts are damaging their global image, and putting them in the same category as major media abusers like Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. China quickly jumped to support the Twitter policy as well.
But it’s a very worrisome move from Twitter. A major part of its appeal in closed countries is the idea that it provides an outlet for unpopular views, which could be repressed if spoken in other forums. But now, in Thailand — and probably numerous other countries — Twitter will simply keep those unpopular views out of the Twitterverse, giving a major win to censorship.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @JoshKurlantzick