Last week, a new social media platform went viral in Thailand.
It’s called “Minds”.
Minds proudly advertises itself as a platform that “frees the minds”, with policies that encourage freedom of expressions.
It’s no secret that the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES) is no friend to freedom of speech, and Thailand has a long history of governments interfering with and prosecuting free speech.
So let’s investigate the popular social media platforms in Thailand, plus Line, the most popular chat application.
Each platform will be given a “freedom rating” for the safety of expressing your opinion without interference or prosecution from the government, based on the platform’s policies and its past dealings with government agencies.
The freedom rating ranges from 1 for “Computer Crime Act smack you over the head” to 5 for “This platform isn’t going to sell you out to the Anti-Fake News Center”.
Facebook states in its community standards that it is committed to the expression of opinions. However, “restrictions of rights by governments” are allowed if they have legal standing and are necessary for “the protection of national security, public order, health or morals.”
This exception is worrying because if your country has legislation that suppresses freedom of speech, then Facebook agrees that your country’s government has the right to censor your Facebook posts.
To make matters worse, there is already a recent precedent when Facebook “reluctantly” agreed to censor anti-government posts in Vietnam after their local servers were shut down.
You are also required to use your real name on Facebook, thus making your identity public. Although you might be able to get away with using fake names, as long as your friends don’t tell on you.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, is less about political opinions and more about wanderlust photos and foodies’ stories. Hence, there are less conflicts with governments when it comes to freedom of expressions.
Its community guidelines advise users to follow the law in general, without any mention of national security or public order, while also allowing anonymity.
For that, it rates a little bit higher than Facebook.
When Twitter launched its own @TwitterThailand account, users started dissing the platform and many went over to Minds.
In its announcement, Twitter mentioned partnering with the government. Furthermore, it featured DES Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta’s tweet about cracking down on “fake news”.
That’s enough to stir anger and cause paranoia in “politically sensitive” Thailand.
The fact that Twitter Thailand’s official account has a profile picture that is coincidentally similar to Palang Pracharat’s party logo didn’t help.
Nevertheless, its rules do not restrict expression of opinions and its law enforcement guidelines state that it only recognises court orders and search warrants from an agency with jurisdiction, i.e. the United States and Ireland, which means Thailand has no authority to demand user data from Twitter.
So you should be safe to express your opinions freely, as long as you keep yourself anonymous and refrain from publicly sharing any personal information, such as area of residence and birthdates.
While Minister Buddhipongse’s DES can’t get Twitter to sell you out, they can still track you down based on what you posted publicly, like how Niranam got arrested after he tweeted his birthdate.
Rating: 1 (without encryption), 4 (with encryption turned on)
Line deserves a special mention here, for being the most popular chat application in Thailand, even though it is not a social media platform.
Since the app became popular back in 2013, the government has tried many times to gain access to Line’s chat logs and even claimed in some reports that they can monitor Line conversations. Although Line has denied this.
The perceived security of Line was very flimsy until 2016, when it released an end-to-end chat encryption functionality called “Letter Sealing” and made it enabled by default for most users.
This means the messages you and your friends send or receive are made unreadable when stored in Line’s servers (or if someone intercepts your messages midway) and can only be read on the devices that the users log-in on.
However, some pieces of information related to the messages or “metadata”, such as sender and receiver identification may still be known.
Do make sure that Letter Sealing is enabled by tapping the menu icon at the top of the chat screen, go to “Other settings” and check if there is a padlock icon under “Encryption keys”.
If not, you and your friends should urgently go to Settings > Privacy and tick “Letter Sealing” to enable the encryption.
Users of Minds benefit from the platform being low-key, and thus less oversight from the government, although that may change if it gains in popularity.
Its policies encourage users to be anonymous and the platform is designed to protect users’ identity by encrypting every piece of user information, including email addresses, IP addresses and chat history.
With a relatively small user base, there’s not much history to Minds when it comes to interactions with governments (even though it was launched in 2015.)
So you should still be careful to conceal your identity as you navigate through this new-ish social media landscape.