Thai PM orders probe into army’s link to banned Facebook network

Military denies it was involved in ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’ in order to influence public opinion.

Prayuth has directed the defence ministry to look into the allegations and explain them to the public [File: Bebeto Matthews/AP]
Prayuth has directed the defence ministry to look into the allegations and explain them to the public [File: Bebeto Matthews/AP]

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered an investigation into allegations that the military is behind a network of Facebook accounts allegedly using deceptive behaviour to influence public debate, including over the long-running conflict in the country’s mainly Muslim provinces in the far south.

The Bangkok Post reported on Friday that Prayuth had directed the defence ministry to look into and find more details of the case, and explain the matter to the public to clear up doubts over its information operations.

Marking the first time it has removed accounts allegedly linked to the Thai government, Facebook removed a Thailand-based network that included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram, citing “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

Facebook said in a report the operation was linked to the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and targeted audiences in Thailand’s southern provinces, where conflict has rumbled for decades.

ISOC spokesman Thanathip Sawangsang on Thursday denied the military was involved.

“ISOC is not aware of the takedown of the Facebook accounts as reported in the news. Those were personal accounts not related to ISOC,” Thanathip said in a statement.

“ISOC also doesn’t engage in operations as reported in the news. We act as a centre for coordination to provide relief and refuge to the people.”

Fake pro-military content

The network used both fake accounts to pose as individuals from the area and authentic ones to manage groups and pages, including overt military pages and those that did not disclose their affiliations with the military, Facebook said.

The company said it took action based on the network’s deceptive behaviour, which violated its policy against government interference.

It said the action was not based on the content, which included support for the military and the monarchy as well as allegations of violence and criticism of rebel groups in southern Thailand.

In October, Twitter took down 926 accounts it said were linked to the Thai army that promoted pro-army and pro-government content.

The army at the time also denied links to the accounts.

A month later in November, Twitter banned a Thai pro-royalist account for “violating our rules on spam and platform manipulation”.

According to a Reuters investigation, the account was flooding the platform with spam via thousands of recently created followers that did nothing but post its hashtags promoting the monarchy and attacking anti-establishment protests.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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