A man in Bangkok was just sentenced to 30 years in prison for a series of Facebook posts he made criticizing Thai royalty, and a woman in Chiang Mai -- who is the mom of two young girls -- was sentenced to 28 years for doing the same. Both sentences were originally set at double those lengths, but were cut in half after the "culprits" plead guilty to writing several status updates criticizing Thailand's king.
A Military Court chief said the man's trial was kept private because "What he wrote was beyond rude. Even the prosecutor did not want to read them out loud."
Thailand is one of a handful of countries that still have "Lèse-majesté" laws on the books (that's French for "injured majesty"), which basically make it illegal to talk trash about royalty, and theirs are among the strictest. People in Thailand who are accused of insulting the monarchy can be sentenced to prison terms that range from 3 to 15 years for every act of "defamation," and in these two cases, every separate status update was considered its own act.
Women in Thailand walk by a portrait of the King
Thailand's King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is 87 years old and has ruled since 1950 without much criticism, but people started to complain about his leadership after the palace backed a controversial military coup in 2006. The BBC reports that "the current military government, which came to power in another coup last year, has made defending the monarchy a top priority," which may be why these two sentences are the some of the harshest that have ever been given in the nation for insulting royalty.
This isn't the first time people have gone to jail over social media posts. Earlier this year, a man was sentenced to 18 months in prison for a Facebook post criticizing the government of the United Arab Emirates, and a woman in Indonesia was sentenced to 5 months in jail for telling a friend in a private Facebook conversation that her husband had abused her after her husband found the conversation and contacted the police.
Although we don't have anything resembling Lèse-majesté laws here in the US, people still get arrested over social media posts. A number of teenagers have been arrested for posting "sarcastic" threats online, rappers have had lyrics they posted online used against them in court, and lots of people who actually did commit crimes have been busted thanks to confessional (or bragging) posts they made on social media.
It also seems that when we're not doing anything wrong on social media, we could still be under surveillance. It's been confirmed that during the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, a cyber security firm worked with the local police to monitor the social media posts of over 200 activists they believed could be "threat actors" or "threat influencers," even though they hadn't been involved in any criminal activities.
Careful what you post, friends!