ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Thailand Blocks Access to Porn Sites, Prompting Protests

The paternalistic move will only exacerbate the country’s simmering anti-government and anti-monarchy sentiment.

Thailand Blocks Access to Porn Sites, Prompting Protests
Credit: Flickr/Marco Verch

Thailand’s government has banned the popular adult streaming site Pornhub and 190 other websites showing pornography, prompting a surge of social media anger and real world protests against state censorship. Announcing the ban on November 3, Puttipong Punnakanta, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, explained that the content had been blocked for violating the country’s Computer Crime Act. In addition to Pornhub, another 190 pornography and online gambling websites have been blocked.

The move comes just days after the kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, issued a new policy directive calling on the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to act against sites that caused “improper behavior” among the younger generation. For years, Thai conservatives have called on the government to take action against websites and social networks which they claim are undermining Thailand’s traditional culture and values. Last year, Thailand was in the top 20 for daily traffic to Pornhub in 2019 and is globally known for its sex industry.

The ban has played into the simmering antigovernment protests that have taken place since March, which have called for a new constitution, the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and explosive demands for reforms to curb the power of King Vajiralongkorn. Some netizens asked whether the ban was about trying to protect Thai morals or because the site featured compromising footage of high-ranking members of the royal family, including the king.

In any event, to many young Thais, the online pornography ban represents another iteration of the stifling paternalism that has driven tens of thousands of young people into the streets in recent months.

The student-led protests have charted a deep generational rift, as young people have drawn on youth culture –  including references to Harry Potter and  The Hunger Games film franchise – in order to express their opposition to Thailand’s rigid social hierarchies and patriarchal norms. In recent months, high school students have protested against the harsh discipline in Thai schools, while university students have boycotted graduation ceremonies traditionally presided over by high-ranking royals. In comparison, recent pro-monarchy yellow shirt protests have been populated by a visibly older demographic.

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After the announcement of the ban, the hashtag #SavePronhub [sic] trended on Twitter, accompanied by memes and posts complaining about the ban and offering advice on how to circumvent the block using VPNs. An activist group called Anonymous Party reportedly said: “We want to reclaim Pornhub. People are entitled to choices.” Meanwhile, a few dozen activists gathered outside the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, holding banners saying “free Pornhub” and “reclaim Pornhub.”

The Thai-language hashtag #พลังเงี่ยน, which roughly translates as #HornyPower, also shot up the Twitter charts. The hashtag, reportedly a play on #SilentPower, a hashtag used by ultraroyalists to show support for the establishment, quickly accumulated some 100,000 tweets, many poking fun at the hypocrisy and prudery of the website bans. One user lamented, “Do you hear the people sing ?? Singing a song of horny man.” Another posted the message, “Pornhub Spring.”

The move is only likely to fuel the sense of generational and political divides that underpin the current surge of anti-government and anti-monarchy sentiment. As one twitter user put it, “If someone doesn’t hate the current military government, now they probably do.”