LEGAL MOVES are being taken against online news outlets using “fake news” to incite hatred against activists campaigning to abolish the death penalty.
Pro-democracy activist Nuttaa Mahattana yesterday announced she would sue outlets for sharing posts containing false information and misquoting her stance against the death penalty.
Her vow came after Thailand’s resumption of executions last week provoked a storm of controversy here and abroad.
Nuttaa told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand that erroneous information had caused widespread misunderstanding and generated public hatred towards her. She said the spread of fake news had made her a victim of cyberbullying.
People who disagreed with her stance that the death penalty should be revoked had reacted with vicious personal attacks on social media, threatening her with rape and her and her family with murder, she said.
She felt duty-bound to protect herself and her loved ones by suing those who spread the false information, Nuttaa said.
Two online media outlets, TNews and the Facebook-based Derajchan News, were mentioned by name at the press conference as the sources alleged to have distributed inaccurate reports. They, along with other Facebook news fanpages alleged to have shared the reports, will be sued for distributing false information on the Internet and for defamation, said Nuttaa.
“These news outlets have tried to use the public debate over death penalty abolition to provoke a social outcry against me by spreading false and misleading information, which is very irresponsible and unethical for media practitioners” Nuttaa said.
“I also notice that all these media outlets oppose my political stance and activism regarding democracy, so their action may have a hidden political agenda.”
She said she would not target individuals who threatened her and her family, as she understood that many social media attacked her out of personal anger. Nuttaa however warned that she will not tolerate any more threats and social bullying, and will sue anyone who from now attacked her or her family.
Social bullying of rights advocates was also denounced by another high-profile activist.
Former chairwoman of Amnesty International Thailand and Cross Culture Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet said that she, along with her organisations, have also been targets of bullying in society and on social media over their roles as human rights defenders.
Pornpen said the period under the military government has seen an increase in both the number and intensity of attacks against rights defenders on social media. Many of the attacks were actually information operations by the Army, she said, adding that security agencies often saw human rights activists as the opposition.
Nuttaa said that the social media backlash signified serious problems in society. She identified a lack of respect for other people’s opinions, and the absence of a culture of constructive debate on public issues based on logic and facts.
“Public issues, such as enforcement of the death penalty, should be widely critiqued and debated among members of the public, but our society does not have a democratic environment to foster this culture,” she said. “So it is crucial that all of us campaign for the installing of genuine democracy in our society.”
The topic of death penalty enforcement has been a hot issue since a convicted murderer last week became the first person in nine years to be executed in Thailand.
The execution was widely condemned by international rights guardians as a violation of the most basic of all human rights – the right to life – and for abandoning the country’s stated commitment to revoke the death penalty. In response, many Thai netizens were scathing in their criticism of the international bodies.
Polls suggest a majority within Thai society strongly supports the execution of prisoners who have committed serious crimes.