Social networking becomes risk for activists in Southeast Asia

Social networks are a useful tool for communication, but have posed a risk to activists working in Southeast Asian countries.

Freedom on the internet has been reduced in recent years in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar where these people are being chased by ideas they express on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

On Aug. 15, Thai university student and activist Jatupat Boonpattaraksa was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for sharing a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn made by British broadcaster BBC.

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The biography, which included controversial aspects of the monarch’s private life, was shared more than 2,600 times in the social network, but the young man is the only one who has been persecuted by the country’s courts.

Jatupat, who before the arrest led several protests against the military junta that has ruled Thailand since 2014, won the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights granted by South Korea in April, but was unable to receive him for pre-trial detention.

Already the activist known as Pai Dao Din was sentenced under the severe lese-majesty law, which provides for imprisonment of three to 15 years for those who criticize or make comments considered offensive to the royal family.

Thailand’s authorities also use internet and defamation law to launch criminal proceedings against activists, according to Sutharee Wannasiri of Fortify Rights.

“We advocate a change in the internet law, which includes prison sentences,” Wannasiri told a conference of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT).

According to the activist, the mere fact of “liking” some publications on social networks may already be reason to be questioned and denounced by the country’s police.

At the same conference, Pornthip Hongchai, a peasant and activist from Loei province in the north-east of the country, said that social networks, while helping to communicate with the public, also open the door to reprisals.

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She has been struggling for years against the operations of a gold mine that would be polluting the surroundings of the Wang Saphung district. However, Hongchai and his neighbors often feel helpless in the face of the power of corporations and authorities.

The Burmese Zaw Zaw Latt, who defends religious understanding in his country, denounced in the FCCT that Myanmar police do not investigate the death threats received by him from social networks by radical Buddhist groups.

“If a Muslim writes something like that on the internet, he is arrested quickly,” he said.

Latt has been campaigning for years for the rapprochement of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in Myanmar. The country is currently experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis because of the persecution of members of the Rohingya minority, who fled en masse to neighboring Bangladesh.

According to the NGO Freedom House, in 2016, Vietnam, where the detention of bloggers critical of the government is habitual, obtained a score 76 (being 100 worse) in the world ranking of censorship in social networks.

In the rest of the region, Thailand received 66 points, Myanmar 61 and Cambodia 52. There is no data on Laos, ruled by a communist regime since 1975.

According to David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, there is an increase in the criminalization of criticism of governments in Southeast Asia and an abuse of laws against blasphemy in countries such as Indonesia.

Kaye said that over-regulation of the internet is detrimental to freedom of expression, which he considers essential to ensure development, health and basic rights.

Iran lives love and hate relationship with Twitter

While Iran’s population is banned from accessing Twitter, the country’s top leaders do not bother to set the example and live a near-love relationship with the social network.

To access Twitter in the Islamic Republic, it is necessary to use programs that circumvent the geographical restrictions, known as VPN, but despite the limitations, many Iranians have accounts in the social network, including President Hassan Rohani himself.

The dual situation creates a continuous debate between the reformist and conservative sectors of the Islamic Republic. Conservatives worry about the “western infiltration” of the country through social networks, which also has blocked Facebook and YouTube.

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This dispute, as well as the incongruity between the censorship and the use of the tool by the authorities, can be closed thanks to the efforts of the new communication minister, young Mohammad Javad Jahromi.

He recently announced negotiations with Twitter to “solve the problems” and unblock the social network in Iran, a decision that, however, depends on the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, which includes members of the country’s most conservative wing.

“Twitter is not an immoral environment that needs to be blocked,” said the minister, who claimed that the censorship adopted in 2009 occurred because it was considered that the social network had “interfered in internal affairs of the country.”

This year, social networks such as Twitter were used to a large extent to call for major protests by the Green Movement against a possible return to power of former ultraconservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013).

Despite his role in blocking Twitter, Ahmadinejad opened an account on the social network earlier this year. The @ Ahmadinejad1956 profile has more than 34,000 followers and in it the former president describes himself in a very American style as a husband, father, president and mayor.

In turn, Rohani maintains two profiles. One, addressed to the international public, where he writes messages in English, and another, to the national public, in which he is in Farsi.

Both accounts were opened in 2013 when Rohani was first elected president of Iran. Four years later, the moderate leader had 531,000 followers in the Farsi profile and 693,000 in the English account.

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Rohani expressed in several of his speeches his opposition to censorship on the internet, although at the moment it cannot win this battle of the conservative sectors.

After taking office for a second term in August, the president once again insisted that it was not necessary “to sacrifice freedom for security.”

Who also has a profile on Twitter is the head of Iranian diplomacy, Mohammad Javad Zarif. One of the last messages of the chancellor alerted the United States that the nuclear agreement signed between the country and the Group 5 + 1 – USA, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, plus Germany – is not negotiable.

Even Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has accounts on the social network, with hundreds of thousands of followers in different profiles posting messages in Farsi, English, Arabic, and French.

According to an Iranian activist with more than 8,000 followers on Twitter, who preferred to remain anonymous, it makes “no sense” to maintain censorship over the social network if leaders use it.

“Almost everyone has already accepted that social networks have a strong influence on the population and therefore can not be ignored,” said the young man in an interview with Agencia Efe.

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“Our authorities use them so much to communicate with the Iranians who chose this medium to relate to people from other countries,” the activist added.

Although the Iranian leaders cannot be indifferent to Twitter, he did not want to evaluate if the censorship will end.

“We have not been able to predict what will happen,” he said, noting that it was important for some sectors of the country to control any source that was susceptible to “immorality or subversion.”

Facebook launches version of Messenger for children

The social network Facebook announced on Monday the release of a version of the Messenger application aimed at children, in order to provide more security for this audience.

Messenger Kids will work in much the same way as the traditional app, but users will only be able to send GIFs appropriate for their age and will work within an ad-free environment and with an account previously installed by their parents. In addition, parents can add or delete contacts from their child’s account.

Failure to play ads on Messenger Kids means that Facebook will barely collect information from those users. The application will show previous messages for each conversation and display the users with whom there is a higher relationship at the top of the contact list.

The company explained that it paid special attention to the installation of tools to detect abusive content on this platform.

Unlike the traditional version of Facebook, those under 13 will not have accounts associated with the application. The company’s current policy does not allow minors of that age to have accounts.

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The decision of the company to create this version of Messenger is due to the volume of children who use tablets and smartphones. It is estimated that more than 90% of children between the ages of six and 12 have access to tablets and smartphones, according to figures from the Dubit consulting firm.

“In our research, there is always one issue that stands out: parents want to know who they have control of. They want a certain level of control over their digital world that is similar to the level they have in the real world,” said Antigone Davis, principal global Facebook security.

How to increase your followers by 90% with targeted Twitter lists


-Started with 470 followers
-In 24 hours, made it to 857

Update: follower count now at 899

Step 1: Determine your Audience

I chose designers, and founders because as a Designer Co-Founder, I knew the topics I tweeted about would resonate with those groups. Then I went into Tactics Cloud and searched for users that I thought would be interested in following me.

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I built groups on Tactics Cloud of users under 5,000 (this is the max twitter allows you to put on one list, this is important in Step 3).

Tactics Cloud’s advanced search engine makes finding and grouping these people fast and easy (impossible to do manually with Twitter).

Examples of the groups I made:

  • Designers in New York (Users on twitter with “designer” in bio and location “New York”)
  • Designers in Toronto (Users on twitter with “designer” in bio and location “Toronto”)
  • Designers in San Francisco (I think you get the pattern..)
  • Co-Founders and Designers (no location filter)
  • UI/UX (no location filter)

Step 2: Prep your profile

Now that I have targeted groups inside of Tactics Cloud, I wanted to ensure my bio clearly stated what I did and why I was worth following.

I also tweeted a few examples of my work to ensure my photos and videos section had design work in it.

Step 3: Exporting Tactics Cloud Groups onto Twitter as Lists

Now that my Tactics Cloud groups were built and my Twitter profile was ready for traffic, I exported each group as a public Twitter lists.


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In less than a day, I picked up close to 400 new followers. Here’s the key – sure I could have gone out and just bought followers, but they would have been random, unengaged, and fake.

The purpose isn’t to simply add followers for “social cred” – it’s to build a community of followers who share the same interests and career goals, because they I know they’ll share and engage in the content I tweet about. Everyone’s goal should be to develop a strong group of engaged followers, not just a larger group of them.

Quality, not quantity.

The Numbers

Lists Exported: 23
Total # of users on all lists: 48,424
# of new followers in 24 hours: 432
Conversion rate: 0.89%

Note: The conversion rate continues to improve as more followers see the notification and start to follow. I haven’t pushed any new lists – not too bad for an hours worth of effort.