PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered police to extend their investigation after three Chinese men working illegally in Thailand were arrested for a scheme to boost "likes" and page views on Chinese social media pages to determine if there was a hidden political or business agenda behind such crimes.
The three Chinese nationals who were arrested on Sunday in the eastern border province of Sa Kaew were found in possession of hundreds of mobile phones and more than 300,000 SIM cards.
The prime minister wanted police to find out whether people were using similar methods for political purposes, such as inciting the public or insulting the monarchy, in addition to commercial or other illegal activity, government spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday.
Prayut also said that he did not expect 6 million people to show support by following him on social media. He seemed to be referring to his predecessor and former boss Yingluck Shinawatra, whose Facebook page recently reached 6 million followers.
The premier, speaking at Government House after the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the number of "likes" and followers in social media could be distorted as it was something money could buy, citing the arrest of the Chinese men.
"You don't have to like me [on Facebook]. I don't believe in that. It's something money can buy. Technology has gone so far. We cannot just give importance to online media perception," Prayut said. On Sunday, Yingluck announced that her Facebook followers had reached 6 |million and thanked people for their support.
"Thank you all for the 6 million likes. Thank you for your support of me over the past seven years. This is a valuable present for my birthday this year, at a time when I need moral support to give me strength," she said.
In a related development, police will ask telecom operators how the Chinese men could acquire hundreds of thousand of SIM cards that allowed them to conduct shady social-media operations.
Hundreds of thousands of SIM cards found
"Found in their possession were hundreds of iPhones and hundreds of thousand of SIM cards," Aranyaprathet Police Station's superintendent Pol Colonel Wassaphan Sirikulkamomcha said yesterday.
He added that the suspects had said they ran their operation in Thailand because China allowed only one SIM card for each ID card.
"They said the Internet and SIM cards also cost much more in China," Wassaphan said.
Wang Dong, 33, Niu Bang, 25, and Ni Wenjin, 32, admitted that their operations were based on WeChat - a popular social media platform in China - and targeted Chinese products.
The three suspects are now in detention at Sa Kaew Court, facing charges of working without permits and possessing smuggled cell phones.
Police said there was no evidence that |the men's operation was involved national security.