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Thai users of Clubhouse app warned about political content

The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio chat app launched less than a year ago, has caught the attention of tech industry bigshots like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, not to mention the Chinese government, which has already blocked it in the country. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BANGKOK – Thailand’s government warned users of the recently introduced Clubhouse voice chat app on Wednesday that they must be careful not to misuse it or face possible legal consequences.

The warning from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society came after many people used the mobile app to listen to a popular self-exiled opponent of the Thai government. Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun is known for his criticism of the country’s monarchy. People convicted of defaming the royal institution are liable to prison terms of up to 15 years per offense.

Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said the ministry has monitored the Clubhouse app since it was launched and found that some political activists use it to spread what he described as fake news and distorted information.

“Those who misuse the app to violate other people’s rights or cause any loss will be considered to be breaking the law, including the Computer Crime Act,” he said in a statement. “The police and related officials will proceed with legal action against them, the same as with other social media platforms.” The Computer Crime Act has been used to prosecute critics of the government and monarchy, notably for Facebook posts.

China’s government last week blocked its citizens’ access to Clubhouse, as it has done with thousands of other websites and social media apps. It acted after users of the app began speaking freely about sensitive subjects such as democracy and Taiwan, which they are unable to do on other apps that are closely monitored and censored.

Clubhouse, which can only be joined by invitation, became trendy in Thailand over the past week.

It burst into the public’s attention when Pavin opened a chat room where he led discussions about the monarchy, quickly gathering thousands of listeners.

Pavin, speaking Wednesday on Clubhouse, charged that the government is afraid of Clubhouse because it allows its opponents to talk directly with each other.

iLaw, a legal monitoring group, also opened a Clubhouse chat room to hold a discussion about amending or abolishing the lese majeste law that forbids defaming the monarchy.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who founded a popular anti-establishment party that was dissolved by the courts, have used the platform to discuss a debate on a no-confidence motion against the government in Parliament. Their banned Future Forward Party was known for its savvy use of the internet, which helped it build a large following, especially among young people.