In its February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, Facebook says it detected and removed 77 accounts, 72 pages, 18 groups and 18 Instagram accounts originating in Thailand, targeting audiences in the Southern provinces.
Soldiers with assault rifles lining up for a patrol. (Source: ISOC Region 4)
The investigation found links to the Thai military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a powerful and unaccountable military-led organization.
The report identifies Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation”. It is divided into 2 categories depending on who operates it - either non-government or foreign, or government actors.
In Thailand, the accounts, pages and groups were removed for violating Facebook policy against government interference. The people behind the network used both authentic and fake accounts to manage groups and pages, including overtly military pages and pages that were not openly affiliated with the Thai military.
The network primarily posted about news and events in Thai. It also posted content supporting the Thai military and the monarchy, calling for non-violence, regional COVID-19 updates, alleged violence by insurgent groups in Southern Thailand, and criticism of separatist independence movements and civil society organizations.
One interesting example given by the report is a post from a page named Comprehending the operation (รู้ทันขบวนการ). The post criticizes Amnesty International, an international human rights NGO, and also other NGOs as a whole, labelling them as uncaring of local people unless they can benefit from them financially.
Another example is a page named Truth about my home, Pattani (ความจริงปัตตานีบ้านฉัน). The post states that the insurgency movement’s idea of creating an uprising against non-Muslim believers clearly violates Islam.
Statistically, about 703,000 accounts followed one or more of those pages, about 100,000 accounts joined at least one of those groups and about 2,500 people followed one or more of those Instagram accounts. The network has spent about 350 USD in Thai baht for ads on Facebook and Instagram.
The Deep South of Thailand is an area where military operations have been deployed for decades to suppress an insurgency demanding autonomy. Martial law and the Emergency Decree have been in force since 2004 and 2005 respectively. Severe human rights violations such as arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearance have been reported from time to time.
The Bangkok Post reports that over 7,000 people have been killed during the conflict.
The quasi-civilian ISOC Region 4 has been responsible for various operations including surveillance and intelligence gathering to create soft power domination via projects, events and cultural activities.
ISOC Region 4 has been accused of being an agency which oversees ‘Information Operations’ (IO), targeting the insurgents’ narratives or civil society organizations who promote issues in opposition to the state.
In the February 2020 parliamentary censure debate, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn exposed how the Prime Minister, through ISOC, had ordered IOs to sabotage activists and the peace process in the Deep South, a method which was later found to be used against politicians and the pro-democracy movement.
In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 Thai Twitter accounts deemed to be part of a state-linked IO. The analysis showed that they targeted opposition parties and the pro-democracy movement and tried to counter criticism of the military and government.