Royal Thai Army linked to 926 Information Operation accounts, says Twitter

Twitter has taken down 926 Thai Twitter accounts which are deemed to be part of a state-linked information operation. The analysis shows that they target opposition parties and pro-democracy movements and try to counter criticism of the military and the government.

On 8 October 2020, Twitter revealed 1,594 accounts linked to state-run information operations (IO) in 5 countries: 104 from Iran, 33 from Saudi Arabia, 526 from Cuba, 5 from fake Russian news agencies and 926 from Thailand.

Twitter cooperated with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) in the investigation and analysis which revealed that 926 accounts with 21, 385 tweets linked to the Thai Royal Army supported the government and the Army and targeted opposition parties and their allies, especially the Future Forward Party (FFP) and the Move Forward Party (MFP).

The paper stated that most accounts were created between December 2019 and January 2020 and were most active in February 2020 during the Korat mass shooting perpetrated by an Army officer and the dissolution of the FFP. Most network accounts had low engagement on Twitter and no followers, left their bio sections empty and used stolen profile pictures.

The SIO’s country report “Cheerleading Without Fans: A Low-Impact Domestic Information Operation by the Royal Thai Army” categorized the RTA IO behaviour under 4 headings: RTA Cheerleading, neutralizing criticism during the Korat mass shooting, criticizing the FFP and MFP, and posting content related to Covid-19 including retweeting the PM’s tweets.

These accounts replied to and commented on RTA-adjacent twitter accounts en masse to boost their presence, dogpiled onto tweets from their ideological opponents and pushed hashtags in line with these intentions.

Lt Gen Santipong Thammapiya, Royal Thai Army spokesperson, denied that there is an IO network and claimed to have already confirmed to Twitter that they did not use the accounts for such things. The Army would investigate the accounts that were removed.

Santipong insisted that the official Twitter accounts of the Army were used only for promoting the Army’s activities. “I wish to confirm that [Army Twitter accounts] are used for the Army’s public relations, especially helping people in various situations because at this time Thailand currently faces repeated crises such as disasters caused by storms.  So we need to use social media to report and to monitor the situation, including ordering military units in the area to perform their duty on the ground as soon as possible,”[1]  said Santipong.

Deputy Army Spokesperson Col Sirichan Ngathong said that it was unfair to accuse the Army over unidentified accounts. She also said that it was a misunderstanding to claim the accounts belonged to a state-linked IO and it was not the Army’s mission to operate on social media.

The disclosure only served to confirm society's suspicions about the existence of IO. During the no-confidence motion on 25 February 2020, Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, MP of the since dissolved FFP, alleged that IO and cyber attacks were systematically supported and funded from state budgets by the Thai military.

Viroj showed a document from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) granting a budget to operate a website that repeated content promoting the state’s agenda in the deep south Thailand, a region where the military have been deployed to suppress an insurgency.

The website often attacks people or Civil Society Organizations who promote human rights, and expose impunity and brutal treatment of civilians by the state. Networks of Facebook accounts work in coordination with the website.