Thailand unveils ‘anti-fake news’ center to police the internet

Thailand unveils ‘anti-fake news’ center to police the internet
By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand unveiled an “anti-fake news” center on Friday, the Southeast Asian country’s latest effort to exert government control over a sweeping range of online content.

The move came as Thailand is counting on the digital economy to drive growth amid domestic political tensions, following a March election that installed its junta leader since 2014 as a civilian prime minister.

Thailand has recently pressed more cybercrime charges for what it says is misinformation affecting national security. Such content is mostly opinion critical of the government, the military or the royal family.

Minister of Digital Economy and Society Puttipong Punnakanta broadly defined “fake news” as any viral online content that misleads people or damages the country’s image. He made no distinction between non-malicious false information and deliberate disinformation.

“The center is not intended to be a tool to support the government or any individual,” Puttipong said on Friday before giving reporters a tour.

The center is set up like a war room, with monitors in the middle of the room showing charts tracking the latest “fake news” and trending Twitter hashtags.

It is staffed by around 30 officers at a time, who will review online content – gathered through “social listening” tools – on a sweeping range of topics from natural disasters, the economy, health products and illicit goods.

The officers will also target news about government policies and content that broadly affects “peace and order, good morals, and national security,” according to Puttipong.

If they suspect something is false, they will flag it to relevant authorities to issue corrections through the center’s social media platforms and website and through the press.

Rights groups and media freedom advocates were concerned the government could use the center as a tool for censorship and propaganda.

“In the Thai context, the term ‘fake news’ is being weaponized to censor dissidents and restrict our online freedom,” said Emilie Pradichit, director of the Thailand-based Manushya Foundation, which advocates for online rights.

Pradichit said the move could be used to codify censorship, adding the center would allow the government to be the “sole arbiter of truth”.

Transparency reports from internet companies such as Facebook and Google show Thai government requests to take down content or turn over information have ramped up since the military seized power in 2014.

A law prohibiting criticism of the monarchy has often been the basis for such requests for Facebook. In Google’s cases, government criticism was the main reason cited for removal of content.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Frances Kerry)

Battle for control of U.S. Congress advances in seven states

FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a sticker in multiple languages after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Venice, Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A bitterly personal matchup in New York between a convicted felon seeking to reclaim his congressional seat from a former prosecutor is among dozens of key races in seven U.S. states on Tuesday, as voters pick candidates for November elections that will determine control of Congress.

Voters in Colorado, Maryland, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi will also select competitors for the Nov. 6 elections, when Democrats will seek to wrest control of Congress from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

Democrats need to flip 23 of 435 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives, which would stymie much of Trump’s agenda while opening up new avenues of investigation into his administration. They would have to net two seats to take the Senate, but face longer odds there, according to analysts.

Residents of New York City’s Staten Island borough will decide whether to give Republican Michael Grimm, fresh off a prison term for tax fraud, a chance to return to his old seat in Congress, three years after he resigned following his guilty plea.

The race has seen the candidates trade personal insults and accusations of lying, with Trump’s presence looming above it all.

Grimm, a bombastic former FBI agent known for once threatening to toss a television reporter off a balcony, has attacked incumbent Republican Representative Dan Donovan, the borough’s former district attorney, for not sufficiently supporting Trump.

Donovan, who earned Trump’s endorsement in May, has responded by calling attention to Grimm’s criminal conviction.

The district is considered within reach for Democrats in November.

“They should have a reality show: ‘The Real Candidates of Staten Island,'” said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “It’s nasty, it’s personal – and it’s enjoyable to watch.”

DEMOCRATIC BATTLES

Voters in upstate New York will pick among seven Democrats in one of this year’s most expensive House campaigns. Republican first-term incumbent John Faso is considered vulnerable in November, and his potential challengers have collectively raised more than $7 million.

In Colorado, an establishment-backed Democrat and a liberal insurgent are vying to take on incumbent Republican Representative Mike Coffman, whose district favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Jason Crow, an Iraq war veteran backed by the national party, is facing Levi Tillemann, who was endorsed by Our Revolution, a group born out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Tillemann earned attention this month with an anti-gun violence video in which he blasted himself in the face with pepper spray.

South Carolina’s Republican contest for governor is the latest test of Trump’s sway among party voters. The president campaigned on Monday alongside Governor Henry McMaster, who is in a tight nominating battle with businessman John Warren. The winner is likely to prevail in November.

Voters will also pick Senate candidates in states including Utah and Maryland. Analysts say Democrats face a steep climb trying to take that chamber, as they are defending seats in states like Indiana, Montana and North Dakota that supported Trump two years ago.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to earn his party’s Senate nomination in Utah, while Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified data, is a long shot in Maryland’s Democratic nominating contest against incumbent Senator Ben Cardin.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

City Targets Woman Attempting To Live “Off The Grid”

A woman who has been attempting to become self-sufficient and live “off the grid” has been targeted by officials of Cape Coral, Florida by shutting off her sewage system.

Robin Speronis has been working for years to reduce her need for government services.  She has been using solar energy to power her home for a year and a half.  She has a system in place to capture rainwater to use for cooking, drinking and bathing.  She survives on mostly non-perishable food.

A day after a Fox affiliated TV station aired a story on her efforts; the city ordered her to vacate her home because of code violations.  The city later told the TV station that they don’t have the power to evict but wanted access to the home to “provide suggestion” for her to live “off the grid in Cape Coral.”

Speronis was convicted in front of a judge last week for violating a code related to a city approved water supply.  She was ordered by the judge to hook up to city utilities.  The city then capped her sewage access saying that she had past due bills for using the system.   Government officials say Speronis told the she wouldn’t pay for using the sewage system.

Speronis said she has a way to do without the sewer system and doesn’t need it.