Facebook reportedly plans to sue Thailand's government over its demand that the company block users within the country from accessing a group critical of its king

  • Facebook is planning to sue Thailand's government after it demanded the company prevent users from accessing a group that criticized the country's king, CNN reported Monday.
  • Facebook has complied with the request in the meantime, blocking users in Thailand from seeing posts from the group, "Royalist Marketplace," which has around 1 million users, Reuters reported Monday.
  • Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the group's creator and critic of the monarchy who is living in self-imposed exile in Japan, told Business Insider that Facebook's decision to comply "detrimental both to the right to express freely and democracy in this region."
  • In the US, Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have repeatedly attempted to position the company as a defender of free speech, but overseas it has typically been more deferential to autocratic governments.
  • The Wall Street Journal also reported this week that Zuckerberg lobbied Trump and members of Congress to take action against rival TikTok on the grounds that its rival wasn't committed to free expression.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook is preparing to take unprecedented legal action against the government of Thailand after it demanded the social media giant block access to a group that had criticized the country's king, CNN reported Monday evening.

Reuters reported earlier in the day that Facebook had heeded the demand to block users within Thailand from accessing the group after the government threatened to take Facebook to court.

"After careful review, Facebook has determined that we are compelled to restrict access to content which the Thai government has deemed to be illegal," a Facebook spokesperson told CNN.

The group, "Royalist Marketplace," has one million members and was created by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an academic and critic of the monarchy who has been living in self-imposed exile in Japan.

"By suing the Thai government over its request to block my group, I see it as the right step. Freedom of expression is something that we are all entitled too, particularly in Thailand where such thing is a rare commodity," Chachavalpongpun told Business Insider, while also criticizing Facebook's compliance.

"For Facebook to accept the request of the Thai government to block its access in Thailand, Facebook has become a part of obstructing democratisation in my country and promoting the information censorship. Facebook's decision is detrimental both to the right to express freely and democracy in this region," he said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In Thailand, pro-democracy protests have been raging for more than a month, with citizens publicly criticizing the country's king, Rama X — notable because of strict lèse-majesté laws that make it illegal to insult, defame, or threaten any member of the royal family.

But a diverse coalition of Thais have been openly defying those laws to question its monarchial system, push for reforms, and condemn Rama X, who has spent large amounts of time in Europe and fled the country for Germany to wait out the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook's decision to block the Royalist Marketplace group comes less than a week after The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook's top public policy executive in India let politicians from the country's ruling party off the hook for breaking its rules on hate speech out of fear of backlash.

But even as Facebook wrestles with how much deference to show to governments overseas, it has repeatedly attempted to position itself as a defender of free speech in the US, where it has refused to take stronger action against misinformation and hate speech spread by politicians on the grounds it would stifle speech.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Mark Zuckerberg lobbied President Trump and members of Congress to take action against TikTok, a growing rival to Facebook, because it didn't support American values of free expression.

"On TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of protests are censored, even in the U.S. Is that the internet we want?" Zuckerberg said in a speech in October.

Facebook and other American tech companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Airbnb and have frequently run into similar dilemmas around the world in countries with more autocratic systems of government, often siding with governments' demands instead of risking losing access to users there.

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