By Phuriphat Sangkhapat
On 8 October, Twitter announced that they have removed 1,594 IO (Information Operations) accounts in Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Thailand. Of those accounts, 926 are alleged to be operated by the Royal Thai Army (RTA).
According to Stanford
Stanford Internet Observatory’s “Cheerleading Without Fans: A Low-Impact Domestic Information Operation by the Royal Thai Army” has this to say.
These IO accounts registered between April 2019 and March 2020. The peak period for registration was between December 2019 and January 2020. Most used Twitter generated usernames and fake profile photos. Nearly 75% did not include a biography.
Most accounts had very few followers. Of the 455 accounts with tweet history, the average number of followers was 2.47 people. The other 471 accounts never tweeted. Combining the two groups, they averaged 1.28 followers.
These IO accounts averaged 0.26 engagements per tweet, including likes, replies, retweets, and quote retweets.
The IO accounts were most active during these events:
- The December 2019 royal barge procession.
- The February 2020 massacre in Korat by an army officer.
- The February 2020 dissolution of the Future Forward Party.
- The February 2020 flash mob protests against the government.
Love the army, hate Future Forward
The job description of the IO accounts include cheering the RTA through “replies,” “mentions,” and “retweets” of the army’s public relations accounts,
@army2pr and @armypr_news.
This includes showing support for the government and the army in the handling of the COVID-19 situation, as well as retweeting the official account of General Prayut Chan-o-cha (@prayutofficial).
These IO accounts’ attack targets were Future Forward Party (before the dissolution) and Move Forward Party. The IO accounts also showed support for the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve Future Forward.
The leaders of the progressive movement Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Pannika Wanich were also prime targets for attack.
These IO accounts attempted to neutralize criticisms against the army during the Korat massacre incident. An army officer stole weapons, shot his way out of the army base, and killed 30 people, wounded 57 others, at a shopping mall.
The IO accounts’ priority was to tweet and retweet messages in support of the army, compliment the army’s measures in handling the incident, and shift the military’s blame to the individual culprit.
The army’s denial
Army Spokesperson Lt. Gen. Santipong Thammapiya denied any wrongdoing by the RTA. He stated that these accounts are meant for public relations and promoting activities. He insisted there are no fake accounts to conduct IO warfare.
Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta said he’s surprised by Twitter’s decision to expose these accounts, instead of removing the accounts that defame the monarchy institution.
He calls for Twitter to respect Thailand’s law.
IO accounts were exposed before
During a parliament debate in February of this year, Future Forward MP Viroj Lakkana-adisorn revealed a document showing a portion of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) budget meant for IO warfare in Thailand’s three troubled southern provinces of Yala, Songkla, and Narathiwas.
ISOC reports directly to the prime minister’s office.
There were three additional documents detailing orders by the Defense Ministry to conduct IO warfare against opposition parties and politicians, including the budget for mobile phones and the internet.
General Prayut denied the allegations and promised an investigation.
Some eight months later, Twitter completed the investigation for him.