Day Fourteen – Free speech on trial in Thailand
February 18, 2012
Webmaster of Thailand’s largest Web forum tells court moderation is “impossible” due to number of comments
The packed courtroom today heard from defence witness Wanchat Badungrat. Wanchat is the founder and webmaster of Thailand’s largest and oldest Internet forum, Pantip.com, founded in 1996. He is also adviser to the Thai Webmasters Association on codes of conduct and ethics.
Wanchat stated Pantip is an open webboard platform for the exchange of ideas and views. The forum is composed of different boards for the different interests of its users, including sports, politics, entertainment and travel.
Pantip hosts around 2,000 distinct visitors every day. More than 10,000 comments are posted on all multiple topics. Pantip.com is one of Thailand’s most popular websites.
Its public membership rules no comments on Thailand’s monarchy or “national security”.
There followed a discussion of methods of moderating public comments. Many fora are too large to permit effective preview of comments by monitors prior to posting. In fact, Wanchat testified that, if such preview is required of websites or ISPs, these industries “cannot survive”.
Monitoring constitutes not only a management burden but restricts conversations among users. Censorship drives Thai users to use international websites and social networks which servers are overseas and thus not subject to Thai government restrictions. Such restrictions are responsible for driving the best of Thailand’s IT industry abroad.
Wanchat testified that Pantip uses keyword filtering for automatic deletion of controversial comments. Users, however, can circumvent this system by the use of coded language as was discussed by prosecution witnesses.
Judge Kampot again intervenes to try to hurry the witness testimony.
Wanchat stated that it is completely “impossible” to monitor every comment so Pantip.com asks its users to report “dangerous speech”. However, the witness states he was never asked to remove a comment by the ICT ministry, Thailand’s major censor.
This said, several Pantip users have been prosecuted under the same Computer Crimes Act under which Chiranuch is charged. (We’d like to hear more about these cases and their results from readers.)
In reply to prosecution examination, Wanchat stated that, in principle, a webmaster should read every comment but it is impossible to accomplish due to sheer number of comments. He also stated that comments to Pantip are not ranked by popularity of views and that he personally had never visited the Prachatai webboard. (Sounds like the webmaster must be too busy monitoring his own website!)
When the prosecutor showed the witness the comment printouts with which Chiranuch is charged with, Wanchat testified it would not be obvious to even discern what they were about. With sufficient political background, some more sophisticated users might understand the comments to be critical of the monarchy.
The Crown then asked: “Should these comments be deleted?” The witness replied, “Yes, even though they may not be illegal.”
On defence cross-examination there followed a discussion of coded language used by an in-crowd group so that the public could not follow.
Wanchat has been outspoken in the past for advocating a “Thai Wide Web” to address issues in Thai society rather than relying on the recognised international standards of the World Wide Web. We hope he’s changed his mind due to the witch hunt against Prachatai.com, a sister webboard.
WE LOVE JIEW! WE LOVE PRACHATAI!
“Day One: Thai webmaster facing 50 years for lèse majesté postings” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/day-one-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Two: Thailand’s chief censor continues in Prachatai trial” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/day-two-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Three: MICT’s legal advisor testifies: ‘Freedom has its limits’” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/day-three-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Four: MICT and police lawyers testify” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/day-four-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Five: Police scientist testifies for prosecution” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/day-five-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand-postponed/
“Day Six: Two police ‘IT experts’ testify as Prachatai trial resumes” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/day-six-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Seven: Police lèse majesté “experts” in Prachatai trial” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/day-seven-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Eight: “I can’t remember.” “จำไม่ได้.” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/day-eight-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Nine: Royal connection to Prachatai withhunt” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/day-nine-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Ten: “Prachatai gives voice to democracy.” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/day-ten-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Eleven: ““Prachatai exists to promote human rights” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/day-eleven-free-speech-on-trial-on-thailand/
“Day Twelve: ‘Judge swamped, justice delayed’” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/day-twelve-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/
“Day Thirteen: ‘Judge refuses instruction by law expert’” https://facthai.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/day-thirteen-free-speech-on-trial-in-thailand/