Friday, March 5, 2021

We’re watching, Thai govt warns protesters using Clubhouse app

Clubhouse users discussing forbidden subjects is drawing the attention of governments in several Asian countries.

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Thailand warned users of Clubhouse on Wednesday not to break the law after the audio social media app emerged almost overnight as a platform for discussion of the monarchy.

It is the latest example of the fast-growing app drawing the ire of governments in several Asian countries.

Digital minister Puttipong Punnakanta said Thai authorities were keeping their eye on Clubhouse users. He accused political groups using the app of distorting information and potentially violating laws.

Thousands of Thais have joined Clubhouse since Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a prominent Japan-based critic of the Thai palace, joined on Friday and started discussing the monarchy.

Clubhouse, launched last year, lets users host and listen to audio chats. It has surged in popularity in the past couple of months, especially after Tesla CEO Elon Musk appeared on it.

“What needs to be spoken will be spoken. It is risky but it must be encouraged, as the more we speak about it the more such discussions become the norm,” Pavin, who gained more than 70,000 followers in his first five days on the app, told Reuters. “These exercises help boost courage.”

Youth protests last year focused on demands for reforms to the monarchy in Thailand, a subject long considered taboo. Some 60 demonstrators have been held or charged under Thailand’s “lese majeste” law which forbids insulting the king.

The Thai government regularly uses a cybercrime law to prosecute critics of the monarchy on national security grounds. It has previously cracked down on such criticisms on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Earlier this month, China blocked access to the app after a brief period when thousands of mainland users joined in discussions often censored in China, including about Taiwan, Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Some Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have gained thousands of followers on the app, although users there have stopped short of hosting public discussions about reviving protests that might attract Beijing’s wrath.

On Wednesday, Indonesia said Clubhouse had yet to register with authorities and could be banned if it failed to comply with local regulations. Jakarta has already banned Reddit and Vimeo.

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