Thailand takes first legal action against Facebook, Twitter over content

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand launched legal action on Thursday against tech giants Facebook and Twitter for ignoring requests to take down content, in its first such move against major internet firms.

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society filed legal complaints with cybercrime police after the two social media companies missed deadlines to comply fully with court-issued takedown orders, the minister, Puttipong Punnakanta, said.

No action was sought against Alphabet’s Google as earlier indicated, because its video platform YouTube removed the requested content late on Wednesday, Puttipong said.

“Unless the companies send their representatives to negotiate, police can bring criminal cases against them,” Puttipong told reporters.

“But if they do, and acknowledge the wrongdoing, we can settle on fines.”

He did not disclose details of the content or say what laws had been violated. The complaints were against the U.S. parent companies and not their Thai subsidiaries, Puttipong said.

Cybercrime police at a news conference said they would need to look at existing laws to determine whether they had jurisdiction to take up cases against firms based outside of Thailand.

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Emilie Pradichit, executive director of Manushya Foundation, a digital freedom advocate, said the complaints were “a tactic to scare these companies.”

The ministry will file more requests asking Facebook, Twitter, and Google, to remove more than 3,000 items, some of which include criticism of the monarchy, Puttipong said.

Twitter and Facebook declined to comment. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Thailand has a tough lese majeste law prohibiting insulting the monarchy and a Computer Crime Act that outlaws information that is false or affects national security has also been used to prosecute criticism of the royal family.

In recent years, authorities have filed court orders with requests to social media platforms to restrict or remove perceived royal insults.

The ministry has also filed separate cybercrime complaints against five people who it said criticised the monarchy on Facebook and Twitter during a major anti-government demonstration at the weekend, Puttipong said.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty