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Thai government push to combat fake news

Thailand is proposing that tech companies set up centres in each of the 10 Southeast Asian countries to curb the flow of “fake news” and fake accounts, the country’s telecoms regulator.

Such centres would also work as a shortcut for governments to flag misinformation more easily to providers of over-the-top (OTT) services – any digital service done through the internet, including social media – so that they could comply by taking it down faster.

Thailand has proposed that OTT companies set up a centre to verify the news. Companies have been asked if they could authorize each country to oversee such centres and in so doing co-operate directly with them.

The proposal came as telecoms regulators from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were meeting this week in Bangkok with an aim to come up with regional guidelines to regulate OTT platforms, including taxation policies.

The meeting was attended by tech giants including, a messaging app operator, and other online platforms.

The proposal would be discussed further during the ASEAN Telecommunications Regulators’ Council (ATRC).

The coordination and verification centres would also support a plan by Thailand’s new digital minister to prioritize anti-fake news efforts and regulate various kinds of content on websites and social media.

Thailand’s government announced a plan to set up a centre to combat unverified news on social media platforms, rejecting concerns that it might be used to suppress free speech.

The planned centre’s goal would be to fight all kinds of fake news, with a focus on misinformation about disasters and financial matters, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society stated. It was noted that the set-up of the centre would not interfere with freedom of speech after criticism about the centre was voiced.

The centre would also teach media literacy and launch a website that would act as a digital verifier of news that people suspected of being fake.

The centre and the website are expected to be launched by October 2019.

The issue of fake news has become a major concern in several Southeast Asian nations. At the same time, there are concerns that government efforts against fake news may curb free speech and be used as a weapon against political opponents.

However, in order for the centre to counter the fake news problem, it needs cooperation from widely used social media platforms in Thailand. The ministry was already in touch with these media platforms.

Thailand already has a Computer Crime Act (CCA) that polices online media. It has often been used in cases involving politics and critics of the government.

The CCA notes that the Minister of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society shall have charge and control of the execution of the Act and shall have the authority to appoint the competent officials as well as to issue Ministerial Regulations and Notifications of the Ministry for the purpose of execution of this Act.

The ACT contains 12 sections on computer-related offences.

One of these sections notes that people who illegally access computer systems that have specific security measures and such security measures are not intended for their use shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding THB10,000 or both.

The Government hopes these measures will curb the current rate of the dissemination of fake news in Thailand and is hoping to collaborate with private players in the area.

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