Thai army denies Twitter disinformation campaign after takedowns

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s army on Friday denied using nearly a thousand Twitter accounts blocked by the social media company, which said they were linked to the army and had targeted the political opposition.

In its first such move against Thailand-based accounts, Twitter said it had “permanently suspended” 926 accounts linked to the Royal Thai Army (RTA) for violating its manipulation policies.

“These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behaviour targeting prominent political opposition figures,” it said in a statement.

In response, Deputy Army Spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong said the accounts were anonymous and did not belong to the army - which had only its official account.

“The issue of information operations is a misunderstanding. We don’t do this. It’s not one of our objectives for using Twitter,” she told reporters.

Thailand’s army ruled from a 2014 coup until elections last year, when junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha stayed on as prime minister - rejecting the complaints of critics that the ballot was a facade to keep the military’s hands on power.

The army had previously dismissed opposition accusations it was carrying out information operations through social media - which has been a powerful rallying force for anti-government protesters over the past three months.

The blocked accounts appeared to have had limited influence.

Data from Twitter showed that more than two thirds of them had no followers. A study by Stanford Internet Observatory, a research group at Stanford University, said more than half of the accounts never tweeted and most of the tweets had no engagement.

“This was a coordinated but low-impact operation,” it said in an analysis.

Twitter also took down accounts it said were linked to the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Russia.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin