Chaiwut, the man with a mission to defend Thailand from the fake-news tsunami
The new digital economy and society (DES) minister, Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn, is set to get tougher with fake news aimed at undermining the government and the monarchy — intensifying an unfinished mission launched by his immediate predecessor.
Chaiwut, 49, said “quick and concrete actions” were needed to deal with “problematic websites” in order to maintain peace in the country.
The outspoken politician from the core coalition party, Palang Pracharath, was speaking to Government House reporters shortly before taking his oath of office before His Majesty the King on Saturday (March 27).
Earlier, Chaiwut told the media that illicit online content including fake news – false or misleading information presented as news mainly on social platforms – must be strictly tackled through legal action.
“Suppressing websites that carry content insulting the monarchy is still a big job that needs doing,” Chaiwut said.
“Some improvements are needed. Previously, legal action has been delayed against social media accounts with fake users.”
He said action would be taken through the government’s Anti-Fake News Centre, which was set up under his immediate predecessor, Buddhipongse Punnakanta.
The centre has drawn criticism from rights advocates, who warned it would cement the censorship used by the junta government during the previous five years and could be used to monitor online debate on the monarchy.
“It is yet another censorship tool, not different from what happened under the repressive environment … under military rule,” said Sunai Phasuk, a Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch.
While in office, Chaiwut’s predecessor tackled fake news in social media, blocked access to adult websites including Pornhub.com and also cracked down on online gambling.
Buddhipongse and two other Cabinet members lost their ministerial seats in February after being convicted for their roles in anti-government protests in 2013-2014.
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วันนี้ 27 มี.ค.64 เวลา…
For the past two years, Chaiwut has been one of the sharp-tongued coalition MPs tasked with defending government leaders during House meetings.
He famously dismissed anti-establishment protesters’ calls for the PM to resign by quipping that their real target was “the dog owner, not the dog” — repeating terms used by protesters pushing for monarchy reform.
Chaiwut also defended the monarchy against the calls for reform. “What is [the reform] for? The institution is good already. Just leave them alone,” he said, adding that the Thai monarchy’s power derives from the love and faith the people have for the institution.
Chaiwut also claimed unnamed politicians were manipulating the student protesters. These people were brainwashing the youngsters and using them as political tools, he added.
“Their goal is not just to overthrow the government. They aim to do something more. And you know what,” the MP said in December.
Establishment politicians have accused opposition politicians of plotting to overthrow the monarchy — which was vehemently denied by pro-reform politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his allies.
Banned from politics
Born on November 2, 1971, in Sing Buri province, Chaiwut received a bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Chulalongkorn University and a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Southern California in the United States.
He entered politics in 2001 after being elected as an MP in his home province under the Democrat Party banner. He left the Democrats three years later to join the Chart Thai Party and was re-elected in 2007.
Just a year later, Chart Thai was dissolved by court for electoral fraud and, as a party executive, Chaiwut was banned from politics for five years.
During his political suspension, he switched to the private sector, working as director of community relations at Gulf Energy Development Plc and a Business Administration lecturer at Rangsit University.
After the ban ended, Chaiwut was elected as a senator for his home province in 2014. However, the Senate was dissolved after the military coup in May that year.
Chaiwut joined the junta-linked Palang Pracharath Party in 2018 and became a member of its executive board. He was elected party-list MP in the March 2019 general elections.
His wife and younger brother are also Palang Pracharath MPs. His wife Kankanit Haewsanti represents Bangkok and his brother Chotewut, Sing Buri.
His family has dominated politics in Sing Buri, 130 kilometres north of Bangkok, for decades and runs businesses including gold shops and a cable TV service in the province. Chaiwut reported personal assets of Bt123.7 million in his filing with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk