"Liking" defamatory content on Facebook sparks debate on whether acknowledging such posts should be considered a crime. On the one hand, authorities say the action is deemed as supporting dissent, but on the other, cyber-liberty advocates say Facebook "likes" only constitute support of the online record of a pre-existing act.
Pol Colonel Olarn Sukkasem, superintendent of the Technology Crime Suppression Division, Central Investigation Bureau, who is in charge of enforcing the Computer Crime Act 2007 highlights need to control social media conspirators:
"Liking" a controversial or defamatory message on Facebook is certainly a crime as it shows support for the content.
The action is on par with cheering someone who has murdered a victim. People who publish such posts online should also consider that those comments might remain on the Internet for a long time.
People who click on the "like" tab should not be under the illusion that they are not showing support for the content. If they perform any action regarding the message whatsoever, Olarn said, that are contributing to the message.
Clicking the "like" tab on a message that is in contravention of Article 14 of the Act on Computer Crime 2007 is the same as importing or sharing false information that threatens national security and stability. The article also covers the import and distribution of obscene information.
It is true that the Computer Act was first enacted years before social media become popular in the Kingdom. This may spark some public concern that the law might not be adequately designed to suit the current context, he said.
Also, some may believe that authorities could take advantage of this state of affairs by a broad interpretation of the Act to favour the government, given that an increased number of people have recently been convicted for clicking "like" and "share" on Facebook.
On this point, Olarn said police do not have the power to interpret laws, they simply follow the legislation. More Facebook users have been convicted lately because social media has been more actively used in Thailand and more people's actions have been in contravention of the existing law.
Some may question the fact that even though many people click "like" or "share" on what are categorised as inappropriate posts, only a relatively few end up being prosecuted. Responding to this point, the superintendent admitted that the police have limited resources and they cannot arrest all wrongdoers in this context.
However, Olarn said, police do prioritise their list of arrest warrants based on the actions of the suspects. For instance, if a thousand people "like" an inappropriate post, but one among them also posts other defamatory photos or messages, that person would be arrested first.
The superintendent said in that case some people might be considered guiltier than others, although all of the thousand Facebook conspirators would be considered legally guilty.
Olarn added that the person who went to the trouble of adding other photos or messages would potentially be considered more "dangerous" than the others.
Olarn acknowledged that the international community might have formed a negative opinion of the draconian legislation, particularly after the recent arrest of alleged Computer Act violator Thanakorn Siripaiboon.
Thanakorn has also been accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code regarding insults to the monarchy by clicking "like" on defamatory posts.
The superintendent said he was also aware that foreign entities had voiced their disapproval regarding Facebook-related arrests on the grounds that such an extreme reaction was unlikely to happen in other countries.
Olarn said other countries also had laws against defamation and critics of Thailand should not be oversensitive about the issue.
He said Thai people had been used to limitless freedom, which had caused society to become disorganised. Something had to be done to stop people from exercising their free will without enough consideration about others, he added.
Olarn insisted that the main duty of police was to maintain equality among every social unit, including the government and the Royal institution.
The police officer said neither the government nor the Royal institution was used to publicly reacting to critics, so the police had to step in to protect them by enforcing the law.
He stressed that the current enforcement of the Computer Act did not limit people's rights to express doubt. People can pose questions about social matters as long as those questions do not spread false information likely to defame others, he said.
Society should be more aware of the police role to protect citizens and maintain justice, he said, adding that people should contact police if they noticed anything suspicious, rather than distribute defamatory messages that could land them in jail.
The Kingdom's current socio-political situation is abnormal and stringent law enforcement in society is needed to keep the country orderly and organised, Olarn added.