Thai government tells Google and YouTube to remove royal ‘insults’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 2:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:13pm

Thailand has sent a high-level delegation to meet Google to push the company to remove any content that defames the royal family, a criminal offence in the south-east Asian country.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on 13 October, aged 88, after seven decades on the throne. At a time of focused discussion on royal affairs, lèse-majesté laws mean people deemed to have offended the monarchy can face years in jail.

The deputy prime minister said he met Google representatives in Bangkok on Friday and added that the company affirmed it would help the government remove videos from YouTube, a Google subsidiary.

“If any website is inappropriate they said to get in touch with them and inform them of the URL and the time the content was found,” Prajin Juntong told journalists.

Google said this conformed with its global practices. “We have always had clear and consistent policies for removal requests from governments around the world. We have not changed those policies in Thailand,” the company said in a statement emailed to The Guardian.

“We rely on governments around the world to notify us of content that they believe is illegal through official processes, and will restrict it as appropriate after a thorough review.”

Google’s terms of service say it may remove or refuse to display content it “reasonably believe[s]” violates the law, providing the company with a measure of control.

Sensitivity around the reputation of the monarchy is at an all-time high in Thailand and the government has been under pressure from ultra-royalists to show it is upholding the reputation of the monarchy.

Authorities have announced a 30-day mourning period during which people are expected to wear black or dark clothing.

Companies have also sought to show solidarity with national anguish and Google and YouTube in Thailand have changed their online logos to black.

The visit by senior officials to Google will be seen as an attempt to publicly appease people who want a renewed crackdown on royal defamation.

However, Google and YouTube searches on Monday appeared to still show online content available that is likely to be in violation of lèse-majesté laws.

Google did not provide The Guardian with specific examples of content removed in Thailand but pointed to its transparency report , a quarterly statement on requests from courts and government to remove content. The latest examples are for 2015.

Rights groups have criticised the country’s lèse-majesté laws.

Last week, the justice minister said Thai people should “socially sanction” those who defame the monarchy. A Thai woman accused of insulting the late king on social media was forced to kneel before his portrait outside a police station in front of jeering crowds.

Reuters contributed to this report.