Twitter has suspended a Thai royalist account linked to the palace that a Reuters analysis found was connected to thousands of others created in the past few weeks spreading posts in favor of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the monarchy.
The Reuters review found tens of thousands of tweets that an expert said appeared to be from accounts amplifying royalist messaging in a push to counter a months-long protest movement that has swelled from opposing the government to breaking a long-standing taboo by challenging the monarchy.
Internal army training documents reviewed by Reuters showed evidence of a coordinated information campaign designed to spread favorable information and discredit opponents.
The pro-monarchy @jitarsa_school account was suspended after Reuters sought comment yesterday from Twitter on the royalist campaign on the social media platform, where protesters have long had a strong presence.
Protesters and royalists have cited the importance of social media in propelling the protest movement, which has become the biggest challenge in decades to the monarchy as well as the government of former junta leader Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Created in September, @jitarsa_school had more than 48,000 followers before its suspension.
“The account in question was suspended for violating our rules on spam and platform manipulation,” a Twitter representative said on Sunday.
She said the suspension was in line with the company’s policies and not a result of the Reuters request for comment.
The account’s profile had said that it trained people for the Royal Volunteers program, which is run by the Royal Office.
A Facebook page for the Royal Volunteers School, which posts pro-monarchy videos and news of the program, also identifies the Twitter account as its own.
In the past few weeks, royalist hashtags have begun trending on Twitter, an important platform for opponents of the government even before protests began in July.
The Reuters analysis found that more than 80 percent of the accounts following @jitarsa_school had also been created since the start of September.
A sample of 4,600 of the recently created accounts showed that all they did was promote the royalist hashtags — an indication of the kind of activity that would not be associated with regular Twitter users.
A sample of 559 retweets of the account’s tweets were virtually all from accounts with bot-like characteristics, according to research by social media consultancy Drone Emprit for Reuters.
“Government forces have been trying to counter the protesters,” said Saijai Liangpunsakul of the independent Social Media Monitoring for Peace group.
“Twitter has taken down some accounts, but there are many more,” Liangpunsakul said.
Hashtags promoted by the suspended account, usually alongside pictures of the king and other royals, included those that translate as: #ProtectTheMonarchy, #StopViolatingTheMonarchy, #WeLoveTheMotherOfTheLand, #WeLoveTheMonarchy and #MinionsLoveTheMonarchy.
Royalist group leader Warong Dechgitvigrom declined to comment on the account’s suspension, saying he was unaware of it.
Royalists have accused protesters of inauthentic activity on Twitter, with coordinated campaigns around hashtags.
However, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, one of the protest leaders, said protesters using the platform were genuine and he welcomed the suspension of the royalist account.
“They’re not recruited to trend hashtags like the army and they don’t use taxpayers’ money,” he said.
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