In First, Election Rules to Limit Social Media Campaigning

A candidate from Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party campaigns at Siam Paragon on June 11, 2011.

BANGKOK — Those planning to meme their way to electoral triumph via savvy Facebook campaigns need to think twice. Riding the easy train into parliament and Government House won’t be as simple as hiring the zeitgeist-exploding girls of BNK48 to serenade the youth vote.

New campaign rules implemented yesterday alongside an actual poll date covered everything from how much money can be spent and the wording of campaign posters to a ban on hosting “entertainment” to a political party’s advantage.

And for the first time in history, for the first election since it became the main platform for unfettered discourse, social media is covered by the regulations. Parties must notify the Election Commission what messages they will put out on which platforms for how long before they begin. Infractions may result in “red cards” disqualifying the contenders from running.

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“Violations on social media are digital [crimes], which are not hard to trace,” Election Commissioner Charungwit Phumma told reporters.

Under the regulations, social media campaigns can only contain candidates’ names, their photos, their party names, party logos, policies, slogans and biographical information.

Parties must also refrain from “Liking” and sharing contents that defame rival candidates or contain “false information.”

Social media is the one space that has eluded control of the military government, though some critics, satirists and opponents have been arrested and charged under the vaguely written cybercrimes law.

The commission said it would convene a “war room” to monitor online political discourse during the campaign season.

Citing fear of potential prosecution, some politicians, including Pheu Thai luminary Sudarat Keyuraphan, deactivated their Facebook accounts on Tuesday.

But Thai Raksa Chart Party advisor Chaturon Chaisang said he would maintain his online presence in order to call for a fair election. The former education minister criticized the Election Commission’s rules on social media campaigning as backward.

“Because the Election Commission does not understand the term ‘freedom,’ the rules turned out this way,” Chaturon wrote online. “But there’s no way they can block it. The social media world has gone far ahead. The Election Commission can’t catch up with it.”

Other rules include:

  • Candidates cannot invoke the monarchy in any way for good or ill.
  • Candidates cannot employ actors, musicians, celebrities and media to “use their talents” to the advantage of the candidates and their parties.
  • Candidates cannot use impolite or aggressive language.
  • Candidates cannot leave literature and materials at locations unsupervised but must directly hand it out.
  • Candidates cannot hand out money or any other financial inducements to the public, even where it would traditionally be acceptable, such as at weddings and funerals.
  • Each party can only spend up to 35 million baht in their campaigns. That includes staff salaries, uniform costs, accommodations, venue rental fees, travel expenses, utility bills and money spent on social media.
  • Campaign posters and billboards can only contain candidates’ names, photos, party names, party logos, policies, slogans, party leader photos and prime minister candidate photos.
  • In what’s seen as a rule to prevent Pheu Thai and its allied parties from employing fugitive prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to influence its base, campaign posters and billboards cannot display individuals unrelated to the parties.