YouTube Video Removal Fails to Placate Thai Government

The user who posted a video on YouTube poking fun at Thailand’s king apparently has removed the video. However, the country’s government says a ban on using Google’s viral video site remains in place until all evidence of the offending clip is gone.

The YouTube ban is staying in place because remaining on the site is a single still frame from what was a 44-second video the government deemed insulting to the country’s monarch, the Thai government said.

Thai authorities said they had contacted YouTube to have the video and still image removed, though it appeared the clip itself had been removed by the person who posted it, with a note on the YouTube page saying the video had been “removed by the user.”

A search for “Thai King” on YouTube on Thursday morning returned numerous “tribute” videos to the monarch, with titles such as “Long Live our Thai King.”

The user who posted the clip in question is believed to be a U.S. resident who went under the handle “padidda.” The account for that user is closed, according to the site. The Thai king video had been viewed just over 16,000 times, according to the YouTube page, though reports state that the clip may have been viewed more than 65,000 times.

Freedom vs. Decorum

The conflict began Wednesday, when Thai authorities blocked access to YouTube after deeming the video to be offensive to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

The video showed a photographic slide show of the 79-year-old monarch and depicted images being displayed over those pictures. One shot showed images of feet over the king’s face, considered an insult in Thai culture. The Thai national anthem had played in the background.

Although the government’s actions angered some free-speech advocates in Thailand — which has seen its share of political turmoil recently — the king is seen as a beloved figure by many of the country’s residents, lending public support to the bid to censor the clip.

It’s not clear what YouTube would have done if the video had not been taken down by the user. The company said in a statement that it recognized the “challenges” brought about by the advance of technology and the cultural differences across the globe.

Poking Fun

Indeed, the clash is a stark reminder of the cultural tensions raised by a global Internet. While U.S. residents have become accustomed to video clips mocking President Bush and other political figures, poking fun at royalty in England, for instance, has been a staple of British culture for centuries.

In Thailand, however, criticizing or offending royalty is considered a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail. In fact, last month a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spraying graffiti on pictures of the king.

The country’s recent military-led coup also may be complicating the situation. Many Thais view the military generals who took control of the government from the elected prime minister last fall as extending the laws protecting the monarch from ridicule to the government as a whole, reducing speech freedoms in the process.

YouTube is not the first site to be shut down by the new government; others that offered criticism of the army-backed coup also are blocked on the government-controlled telecommunications network.

Similar Situations

The run-in with Thai officials is also not YouTube’s first experience with being castigated by a foreign government. Turkey and Brazil both briefly outlawed the site for various reasons.

The same issues now experienced by users who post video to YouTube and similar sites also exist around blogging and other Web 2.0 applications in which Web companies provide a platform for others to express themselves, Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times.

“The Internet broke down the borders between countries a long time ago, and the growth of Web 2.0 is going to continue to raise these types of cultural issues,” she noted. The threat to YouTube is likely minor, Li added, unless Google finds the site blocked by multiple countries, which could impede growth.

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