Unique: Twitter bans the Thai royalist account to affect the marketing campaign

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© Reuters. Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida greet royalists during their performance in Bangkok

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By Matthew Tostevin and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Twitter has banned a pro-royalist Thai account related to the palace, which has been linked to thousands of others created in the past few weeks in support of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and, according to Reuters analysis the monarchy spread.

The Reuters review found tens of thousands of tweets that an expert said came from reports reinforcing the royalist message to counter a month-long protest movement that grew from opposition to the government to breaking a long-standing taboo by challenging the monarchy is.

Internal army training documents reviewed by Reuters revealed evidence of a coordinated information campaign aimed at disseminating beneficial information and discrediting opponents.

The monarchy @jitarsa_school account was suspended after Reuters on Wednesday asked Twitter to comment on the recent royalist campaign on the social media platform, which has long been a strong protester.

Protesters and royalists have cited the importance of social media in promoting the protest movement, which has been the greatest challenge for both the monarchy and the government of former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in decades.

The @jitarsa_school account created in September had more than 48,000 followers before it was banned.

"The account in question was blocked for violating our rules on spam and platform manipulation," said a representative from Twitter on Sunday. She said the suspension was in line with company policies and not the outcome of Reuters' request for comment.

The profile of the account indicated that individuals had been trained for the Royal Volunteers program run by the Royal Office. A Facebook page (NASDAQ 🙂 for the Royal Volunteers School, on which monarchy-friendly videos and news of the program are posted, also identifies the Twitter account as his own.

Neither the school nor Royal Volunteers Headquarters responded to requests for comments on the suspension. The Volunteer Spirit 904 program was launched during the current king's reign, which began in 2016, to strengthen loyalty to the monarchy.

The palace did not respond to a request for comment. It has a policy of not speaking to the media and has not commented since the protests began in July, initially against the government, before breaking taboos by curtailing the king's power.

ROYALIST FIGHTBACK

In the past few weeks, royalist hashtags on Twitter, an important platform for anti-government opponents, have already started before the protests began in July.

Reuters analysis found that since early September, more than 80% of accounts have been created according to @jitarsa_school. A sample of 4,600 of the recently created accounts found that they were merely promoting the royalist hashtags – an indication of the type of activity that would not be associated with regular Twitter users.

For a graphic about the new followers of the Thai royalist Twitter account:

https://graphics.reuters.com/THAILAND-PROTESTS/ROYALISTS/dgkvlaekqpb/chart.png

A sample of 559 retweets of the account's tweets came almost exclusively from accounts with bot-like characteristics, according to a study by the social media consultancy Drone Emprit for Reuters.

"The government forces tried to counter the demonstrators," said Saijai Liangpunsakul of the independent Social Media Monitoring for Peace group. "Twitter closed some accounts, but there are many more."

The hashtags promoted by the suspended account usually included the following, along with images of the king and other kings: #StopViolatingTheMonarchy, #ProtectTheMonarchy, #WeLoveTheMotherOfTheLand, #WeLoveTheMonarchy, and #MinionsLoveTheMonarchy.

The leader of the royalist group, Warong Dechgitvigrom, declined to comment on the blocking of the account as he was unaware of it.

He told Reuters that there were more monarchical-friendly messages on Twitter as royalists increasingly recognized the need to counter the messages from the protesters and encouraged each other to join the platform.

"Pro-monarchy hashtags are authentic and born out of real feelings," he said.

PROTESTER ACCUSED BY ROYALISTS

Royalists have accused protesters of spurious activity on Twitter, with coordinated campaigns around hashtags.

But Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, one of the protest leaders, said the protesters using the platform were genuine and welcomed the suspension of the pro-royalist account.

"They're not being recruited into trending hashtags like the army, and they don't use tax money," he said.

Although not directly linked to the @jitarsa_school account, a 28-page army document checked by Reuters revealed an organized intelligence operation to target "opponents" and spread pro-monarchy messages on Twitter.

The document states that 17,562 Twitter accounts maintained by 9,743 Army officers are split into a "white team" and a "gray / black team" who have been instructed to tweet with coordinated hashtags as well as to like, retweet each other and to follow.

The document suggests actions that are more like authentic accounts.

The Army confirmed the document is genuine Saturday and said in a Facebook post that it was used in a training session to bolster the Army's public relations efforts.

In early October, Twitter announced that 926 accounts related to the Thai army had been deleted for violating platform manipulation guidelines by reinforcing pro-government content and attacking political opposition.

The army at the time denied that the accounts belonged to army officials.

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