With the threat of a single gateway still looming over the heads of netizens, the recent dust-up over limiting access to Facebook content deemed inappropriate by the government, a future internet chock-full of stringent government controls still seems an inevitable reality.
While the government has asserted in the past that its motivation for any restrictions to the kingdom’s internet access is cybersecurity, it would also seem that term covers blocking content it feels is not in its best interest – which was recently the case when it requested the Thai Internet Service Provider Association, or TISPA, to engage Facebook in an attempt to get specific content blocked.
To be clear, it’s common practice for companies such as Facebook and Google to block content from specific countries such as Thailand if presented with a valid court order. From a social media platform perspective, it’s better to stay in business in a country by blocking some content than to be blocked altogether as has happened in China or North Korea.
What is not common practice though is for companies to take down content all together. That means, even when blocked, it remains accessible to people outside of the blocked country.
The issues related to a single gateway span far beyond the goal of preventing cybercrime – or far more draconian attempts to limit access to information – it can have a direct impact on the economy.
Given the economic policies being spearheaded under the Thailand 4.0 initiative and growth of tech startups in the past decade, shifting to a single gateway or regularly blocking social media content could undermine much of the intended progress.
With Thailand focused on moving toward a digital economy with the Thailand 4.0 initiative, it’s going to have to balance its concerns over digital content it deems illegal with the impact on platforms that many firms will leverage to do business.
Sure, finding ways to block content and take legal action against social media platforms might give the government more control over what it deems inappropriate – or just doesn’t want to see – but also threatens to slow down content delivery to local users, making their experience less enjoyable. And if you are trying to grow a digital economy, creating an unpleasant online experience as the norm is not a positive feature.
User experience is a vital part of any digital business, and at a time when the digital economy is being pushed to the forefront of economic policies, it seems shortsighted to enact mechanisms that will ultimately hamper the proliferation of businesses that travel down this path.
If economic growth in all digital sectors is a target for Thailand, then policies such as content blocking and the single gateway will surely hinder – not help – that effort.