Thai-banned: Military blocks Facebook (and soon others) to stop spread of “unrest”


flag-of-ThailandThailand has become the latest country to block social networks in an effort to prevent its citizens from spreading information and unrest.

The country has instituted a temporary ban on Facebook and plans to ask other social networks, like Twitter and Instagram, for their “cooperation” in the future. Though the ban was initially blamed on a technical hitch, Reuters reports that it was in fact a deliberate attempt to prevent access to the social network at the Thailand military’s request.

This isn’t anything new. Belarus banned social networking sites in July 2011 to stop protests during a national holiday. Kazakhstan blocked access to Twitter in December 2011 after 15 people were killed in a confrontation between police and striking oil workers. Turkey banned Twitter and YouTube earlier this year to quiet accusations of corruption before its elections. Countries like Iran and China also stop their citizens from visiting these sites in the first place.

Other countries take a different approach to using social media for their own purposes. Take the so-called “Cuban Twitter” that the United States created to stir unrest in its long-standing enemy, or similar efforts in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that instance, creating the opportunity for like-minded citizens to communicate was deemed more important than making sure they couldn’t share their unhappiness with each other or the rest of the world.

As I wrote when these approaches were placed in stark contrast after the “Cuban Twitter” program was revealed shortly after the Turkey bans were attracting headlines:

These approaches are emblematic of each country’s view of speech as a whole. Some in Turkey prefer silence, the United States favors those who can shout the loudest, and China muzzles its citizens even as its supporters continue to trumpet the government’s virtues.

In each case, it seems that efforts to control social media, like efforts to control speech in general, have failed. Turkey’s Twitter ban has been lifted. USAID’s Twitter clone is now defunct. And China’s Great Firewall is often bypassed by reporters, activists, and dissidents who defy Chinese censorship.

It’s unclear where Thailand will fall on the spectrum. Is this the gateway to a permanent ban on social networks, or is it a temporary solution to the permanent problem of citizen unrest? For now it seems like the latter, but when it comes to social media, it’s hard to know for sure.



Social Media and Unrest in Ukraine


ukraine unrest

*The above image by Sergei Supinsky depicts the demonstrations in Ukraine, before and after from left to right.

In March 2012, a Ukranian woman, Oksana Makar, was gang raped, burned alive and left for dead. Initially, her attackers were freed by the influential powers-that-be, but soon afterwards two chilling videos were uploaded to YouTube and her attackers were re-arrested and sentenced to prison.

Tensions in the country recently became violent after police intervened on a demonstration in Kyiv’s Independence Square in reaction to president Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a trade deal with the European Union to strengthen the country’s ties to Russia. According to a Gigaom report:

…there has been an unending stream of photos, videos and texts flowing from Ukraine and from supporters of the movement outside that country through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram — including some heart-wrenching messages such as the one from a young medical volunteer at the EuroMaidan demonstrations who tweeted after being shot and said she was afraid she was going to die (the last report I saw said she had survived).

Video footage has emerged apparently showing snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square, according the the BBC. Ukrainian authorities have started sending text messages to activists letting them know they are being watched.

The White House said it was “outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people” and said the crisis “should be resolved by political means.”

The following Storify captures some of what’s been happening by way of social media.

image credit: Sergei Supinsky, Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
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