Thailand 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.