07/05/2021

THAILAND DAILY

NEWSPAPER / MAGAZINE / PUBLISHER

clubhouse-a-new-headache-for-thai-authorities-as-it-becomes-a-home-to-the-progressive-movement

Clubhouse a new headache for Thai authorities as it becomes a home to the Progressive Movement

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed by the 2006 military coup, will soon appear on the network after he told a Bangkok seminar on Valentine’s Day that the young people on the street need to be talked to and are looking for a free and more open country. The government is monitoring Clubhouse and is both guarded and wary about this new addition to the social networking environment. Experts say the public should be too.

The live audio app Clubhouse is fast becoming a home for bugbears of the Thai government and establishment with the latest arrival on the network reported as being former Premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, who will address those taking part as ‘Tony’ talking about his own personal experience after contracting Covid-19. Banned this month in China, the Digital Economy and Society Minister has already warned users in the kingdom about the pitfalls of the app which legal experts in Bangkok suggest may not be as safe and secure as those taking to it may, at first, think.

clubhouse-audio-app-home-progressive-movement-thaksin-appearance
Thaksin Shinawatra is to appear on the fast-growing Clubhouse audio app to talk about his brush with Covid-19 and recovery from the disease. It comes as the app is fast becoming home to anti-establishment activists and progressive figures. The Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta warned, this week, that officials with his ministry are carefully monitoring the app and declared it a home for fake news and distorted information.

Former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is to take to the audio-only live app Clubhouse, his Facebook page announced on Monday.

The appearance on the app, which is growing like wildfire in Thailand, will be a personal one in which the former premier will speak about his own experience contracting Covid-19 and his recovery from the disease.

He will appear this week under the pseudonym ‘Tony Woodsame’, a reference to his time abroad as a student where he used the name ‘Tony’.

Former Premier told an audience on Valentine’s Day in Bangkok that Thailand should be buying weapons against poverty and not for fighting an unknown war

Details of the appearance were given by the humanitarian agency CARE, also known in Thailand as the Raks Thai Foundation.

On February 14th last, Valentine’s Day, this group organised a seminar in Bangkok at which an address was played by the former government leader under the theme ‘No poverty among Thais: A pipe dream or a reality,’ in which he said the kingdom should be buying weapons to fight poverty including the best that technology can offer, instead of spending its resources on weapons for wars which may never happen.

‘As someone with experience in tackling poverty, I am happy to give you some advice. The proven formula in fighting poverty is to increase people’s income, reduce their expenses, and know how capitalism works,’ he added. ‘Currently, people have no money to invest, so we need to increase channels where they can access funds.’

Talk to the young people on the streets

He also said young people currently on the streets need to be talked to and made feel part of a more open Thailand with more freedom.

‘Political rallies in Thailand are caused by young people starting to become uncertain about their future. The government must communicate with these young protesters based on reason, as well as find ways to make Thailand open and free.’

Clubhouse only launched in April 2020, by December it was worth $1 billion and took off in February

The hot new social networking app Clubhouse was only launched in April 2020 by a company called Alpha Exploration Co. and two principals, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth.

By May 2020, it was already worth $100 million and by January 2021, it was valued at $1 billion. It had 600,000 users by the end of December 2020.

In Thailand, the app has surged in popularity in the last few weeks as a home to progressive activists after anti-monarchy campaigner and academic, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, living in exile in Japan, began using his own private chat room on the audio-only app.

Used by the likes of up and coming tech entrepreneurial whiz Jirayut Srupsrisopa of Bitkub, the cryptocurrency exchange, as well as progressive activists

It is also being used by the likes of up and coming tech entrepreneur Jirayut Srupsrisopa, the founder of Thailand’s leading cryptocurrency exchange Bitkub who has a huge personal following of 109,000 followers just weeks after first appearing on the application.

He is joined by members of the Thai Progressive Movement Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, founder of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party who used the platform last week to comment on the government censure debate and political issues surrounding the current student-led street protests calling for change.

Elon Musk gave Clubhouse a boost this month

The app which does not retain user data but instead creates shadow profiles, received a massive boost on February 10th when Elon Musk, the tech pioneer agreed to appear on the audio channel with music star Kanye West.

The app is by invitation only and each user is only allowed a quota of two invitees.

There is no accessible record kept of activity and no means of sharing or of objectifying the content which is live, immediate and mostly unrecorded.

Nearly all content is live and unrecorded but it is understood some chat feeds can be recorded

It is reported that some private rooms for chat are recorded and some legal practitioners in Thailand have alerted the public to the danger of live feeds being recorded by an external device which may open those participating or hosting the chat groups to legal proceedings. 

The app is essentially network chats between people.

Banned this month in China

The app initially was only available to Apple devices or IOS but has recently been made available also for Android users.

Clubhouse was banned this month in China and is facing criticism from consumer groups around the world for not conforming with data protection provisions.

Thai government is not a fan at this point, Minister says it is being used to disseminate fake news

The Thai government does not appear to be a fan of the new audio app.

Last week, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the Digital Economy and Society Minister warned his officials were monitoring it closely and said he was satisfied that it was being used to disseminate fake, distorted and illegal news by some political activists.

He warned the Thai public to exercise caution about using the service as it could expose them to legal peril.

Mr Buddhipongse said his ministry would be following up on any complaints relating to the app.

Mixed opinion on the legal exposure of users to Thailand’s strict laws on what is ‘illegal’ content

Legal opinion from experts in Bangkok is mixed about the danger the app poses to those using it to follow or listen to what could be illegal content under Thailand’s strict and draconian lèse-majesté law, the Criminal Code provision against sedition and the 2007 Computer Crime Act. 

This week, several legal eagles were quoted in the Bangkok Post as they analysed the pitfalls and nature of the new service from a potential criminal liability point of view, for those who get carried away with political enthusiasm in what they may feel is a safe space or a valid opinion outlet.

Challenge for the government to monitor this new quirky form of social media that has just arrived

Dhiraphol Suwanprateep of the law firm Baker & McKenzie said the challenge facing government officials is first of all identifying those using Clubhouse apart from hosting audio feeds.

He also noted it could be very difficult to monitor or follow developments on the quirky social media outlet, with an audio-only live feed with no records or trail of activity.

False sense of security may lead to downfall

However, this could also be a downside as this may create a false sense of security for users who may let their guard down and end up, even on a random basis, being recorded by a third party.

‘As the platform allows users to talk freely on any topic, it would be inevitable for any sensitive issues to be brought up in Clubhouse, especially as the app does not allow users to post or record their sessions,’ he pointed out. ‘This gives users a sense of privacy and safety about what they say, but that does not mean they avoid a digital footprint.’

This danger was at the top of the list for Mr Paiboon Amonpinyokeat of P&P Law Firm. 

‘Even though the app does not allow audio recording, this does not mean users can get away from wrongdoing in relation to the Computer Crime Act, criminal law, defamation-related laws as well as the PDPA,’ he pointed out, referring to the Personal Data Protection Act.

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Further reading:

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Police say students have no permission to protest as army chief warns that security will be upheld

New army chief takes the helm this week amid growing tensions and rising public apathy toward politics

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Warning signs in new banking and employment reports as virus crisis hits Thailand’s bottom line hard

Thailand may have to live with the virus but can recover in two years says outgoing central bank chief

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About the Author

Carla Boonkong is a magazine writer who writes extensively about woman’s issues in Thailand. One of her key subjects is the story of Thailand’s growing influence in the world and the role played by Thai women in the process. She is now a staff writer with Thai Examiner.com in Bangkok. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.

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