Facebook Fast: Giving Up Social Networking For Lent

Facebook Fast: Giving Up Social Networking For Lent

What do you usually give up for lent? Sweets? Meat? Alcohol? This year the classic choices for abstinence in the run up to Easter are joined by a group vowing to give up social networking sites.

Alongside chocolate, alcohol and cigarettes a new craze is sweeping the globe: kicking the Facebook habit. Online groups mobilized on Ash Wednesday to delete their profiles on the social network and not send messages, write on virtual bulletin boards, or look for friends for a full seven weeks. Hundreds of users have joined the boycott.

The message on the German language group "Facebook Fast" is clear and concise: "We're wasting so much time on Facebook and other social networks, time that we could be better investing in our relationship with God," writes the group founder, who goes by the name ‘Marcel." The idea is to spend the next 40 days drawing closer to God rather than surfing on Facebook.

Returning to the important things in life

A German woman named Lisa wrote on the new group's "forum" page, saying she wanted to try. She readily admits to wasting time on Facebook, but hasn't been able to kick the habit, and hopes the opportunity to renounce it for lent does the trick. The group's tag line states: "Let's stop using Facebook, and focus on the important things in life!"

Whether the motivation is religious, a way to gain more self-awareness or just simple defiance, the Say-No-To Facebook forces are supporting each other on forums. Some say they enjoy the challenge of abstaining. The Evangelical Church in Germany is backing the campaign. "The idea of fasting can refer to all areas of life," says Pastor Jan von Camphausen, a theologian with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

In Christianity, explains von Camphausen, the practice of fasting is not an attempt to please God, but to win more freedom for oneself. Everyone must decide for themselves which burden they wants to shed for lent, he explains, and inevitably some will see the path to greater human freedom through cutting links with Facebook, which currently has about 15 million members in Germany.

Mood changes

For doctors, going offline could have health benefits. Chairwoman of the Medical Association of Fasting Cures and Nutrition, Eva Lischka, says: "It feels good to free yourself of something that you don't need." Users are more relaxed and calm when they don't feel they have to check what's going on at any given moment. "Mood improves," she added.

Will power is proven to be greater in groups than when people struggle on their own, Lischka adds. The planned en masse withdrawal from Facebook could therefore have a good chance of success.

Back online, user Nour Attieh has fired a passing shot at the initiative. It doesn't make sense, he writes, to call for a boycott of Facebook on a Facebook group. "If I want to join this group, I have to log on to Facebook first!"

Read the original article in German

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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