BANGKOK — The army on Friday dismissed reports by Twitter that they use nearly 1,000 accounts to wage information warfare against opposition figures.
The operation was detailed in a transparency report published Friday by the American social media firm, which claimed that 926 Twitter accounts “reliably” linked to the army were “amplifying” pro-army and pro-government contents. Army spokesman Santipong Thammapiya disputed the findings, saying that the army never used fake accounts for its digital campaign – despite well publicized evidence to the contrary.
“We confirmed to Twitter that we didn’t use the platform as alleged,” Lt. Gen. Santipong said. “Our Twitter accounts are only used for public relations purposes and are openly identified with the army. We have no policy of using fake accounts for information operations.”
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Deputy army spokeswoman Sirichan Nga-thong added that Twitter’s assessment was “unfair” to the army since there is no concrete evidence linking the users with the army.
“They didn’t identify who’s behind those accounts. They just associated the army with the contents they posted,” Col. Sirichan said. “Everyone can do it freely.”
An analysis by Khaosod English found all of the accounts listed in the report were using randomized usernames and they had zero to 66 followers. The oldest account was created on May 27, 2014, five days after the coup which brought PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to power, while most of the accounts were created between Nov. 2019 to Feb. 2020.
The Twitter report also included a total of 21,386 tweets by the accounts. A majority of them promoted the works of the army and praised the monarchy with messages such as “Great work!,” “I’m with you,” and “Long live the king.”
Many of them also appeared to be focusing on the mass shooting in Korat by a disgruntled soldier in February, in which they tried to disassociate the army from the shooter and honored the military’s role in bringing down the shooter.
“Praise to the bravery of Lt. Gen. Thanya Kiatsarn, chief of the 2nd Army Region, and my condolences to the victims’ family. What happened is a personal matter, so don’t generalize the army as such,” one tweet wrote.
Some messages were specifically targeting opposition politicians, such as Thanathorn Juangruangroongkit and Pannika Wanich, the former executives of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party.
“Thanathorn, the anti-monarchist!,” one tweet wrote. “’E Chor, nuk paen din,” another tweet wrote, roughly translated as “burdens on the country.”
Those accounts have since been deactivated by Twitter. The company also accused the governments of Iran, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia of running similar campaigns in its report.
Army’s spokeswoman Sirichan said the army only operates @armypr_news as its official Twitter account.
Those attempts by the army to distance themselves from Twitter’s accusations do not sit well with multiple reports that show army units routinely engaging in online information campaigns aimed at discrediting the opposition and upholding the Royal Family.
In 2016, the force opened an “Army Cyber Center” tasked with such operations, though it was unclear which tools and techniques were employed.
But in a media interview at the center’s inaugural ceremony, then-army chief Gen. Chalermchai Sittisart confirmed the force is engaging in information operations to suppress distorted information and create “better understanding” with people on social media.
A report published by Prachatai in 2019 also says high-school students in the army’s territorial defense program were ordered to post at least 15 pro-monarchy messages on their personal social media accounts as part of their training.