Thailand probes Facebook's removal of army-linked accounts

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FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2020, file photo, Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends a signing ceremony at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand. Prayuth says he has assigned the Royal Thai Army to investigate after Facebook Inc. removed 185 accounts and groups allegedly engaged in an information-influencing operation in Thailand run by the military. (Chalinee Thirasupa/Pool Photo via AP, File)

BANGKOK – Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says he has assigned the Royal Thai Army to investigate after Facebook Inc. removed 185 accounts and groups allegedly engaged in an information-influencing operation in Thailand run by the military.

That followed Facebook’s announcement a day earlier that it had deleted 77 accounts, 72 pages, 18 groups and 18 Instagram accounts for violating its policy against government interference, which is defined as coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a government entity.

“Facebook took action like this. It can be interpreted in many ways. We must make it clear,” said Prayuth.

About 703,000 accounts followed one or more of these pages, about 100,000 accounts joined at least one of these groups and around 2,500 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. Facebook said.

Facebook says the network of accounts originated in Thailand and targeted domestic audiences in its southern provinces, where the army faces a longstanding insurgency movement. The people behind the network used both authentic and fake accounts, posting their content on multiple pages to make it look more popular than it was. The majority of page postings appear to have occurred in 2020.

The Facebook report says the network posted primarily in Thai about news and current events, including content in support of the Thai military and the monarchy. The posts included calls for non-violence, regional Covid-19 updates, allegations of violence by the insurgent groups in southern Thailand and criticism of separatist and independence movements.

“Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to the Thai military’s Internal Security Operations Command,” Facebook said.

On Thursday, three activists including Yingcheep Atchanont, Sarinee Achavanuntakul and Winyu John Wongsurawat, filed a suit with the Administrative Court in Bangkok seeking an order to stop the Royal Thai Army’s information operation. The three said they have been targeted in such operations.