Browsers were unable to connect to Facebook via local providers in Bangkok. Photo: Reuters
Social networking site Facebook was temporarily blocked in Thailand on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt by the country’s information technology ministry to stop anti-army protests being organised.
The online censorship follows digitial television stations such as BBC and CNN being taken off-air in the country soon after the military junta seized power in a coup nearly a week ago.
The Bangkok Post claimed up to 30 million accounts across Thailand were affected by the Facebook outage, with users unable to access the site for around one and a half hours from 3pm local time.
Pictures posted online showed those who attempted to access the site on desktop or by mobile received the error message: ‘‘Timed Out. Unable to connect to Facebook. Please check your internet connection and try again.’’
High-level sources initially claimed the blockage was a technology glitch, but a ministerial official later told Reuters that the action was deliberate.
"We have blocked Facebook temporarily and tomorrow we will call a meeting with other social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to ask for cooperation from them," Surachai Srisaracam, permanent secretary of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, told Reuters.
"Right now there’s a campaign to ask for people to stage protests against the army so we need to ask for cooperation from social media to help us stop the spread of critical messages about the coup," he said.
As soon as the blockage took effect, frustrated citizens flocked to an unaffected Twitter to vent anger and blame the military.
‘‘Military blocked Facebook. Thailand getting more like China and North K [sic] by the second. SO ANGRY!’’ said @LaureneMuayThai in Bangkok.
‘‘My dear friends abroad, as of 3.45pm Facebook Thailand is blocked,’’ said @iKirbylicious.
Some technically savvy citizens reported they were able to access the site using a virtual private network (VPN) or a proxy, which can conceal the location of a user and make it appear they are from somewhere else.
Fears the blockage would spread to other social networks did not eventuate, with access to the site restored by 4.40pm local time.
‘‘Panic over. Facebook now operating in Thailand. Either a glitch or a show of strength by the junta. Thank god for VPN,’’ said @RichardBarrow, a blogger and social media manager, when access was restored.
With the site restored, relieved messages began to pour in.
‘‘Let’s get down to brass tacks here: Thailand blocks Facebook, military junta terrified of shirtless selfies,’’ @Daniel–Fletcher joked on Twitter.
It appears the site has been operating as normal since it was unblocked.