Thailand hotel files complaint against American traveler for posting negative reviews on TripAdvisor.
The Sea View Change hotel in Thailand has filed a criminal complaint against an American teacher, Wesley Barnes, for posting negative reviews of the accommodations online. The charges stem from Thailand’s criminal defamation and computer crimes laws and the guest faces up to five years in jail. Meditation has been scheduled for October 8 against Barnes, who is employed in Thailand.
Law enforcement indicated the Sea View Koh Chang filed a complaint in August 2020 after Barnes posted what the hotel described as “false and defamatory reviews on TripAdvisor and Google.” Upon discovering the post, the hotel reported the reviews to TripAdvisor and an administer deleted some of them. A criminal complaint was then filed against Barnes, and he was detained on September 12 and released on bail two days later.
Adopted in 2016, the country’s Computer Crimes Act holds liable both the author of “unlawful data” and the website operators for any defamatory material online. Prior to its passage, more than 300,000 people signed a petition demanding that the National Legislative Assembly reject it due to privacy and freedom of expression concerns. Nevertheless, the law still went through and under the articles 16/1 and 16/2, indicating a “court can order information that is found to be false and having caused damage to other persons or the public to be removed from the Internet and deleted from computer systems.”
“The adoption of the Computer-Related Crime Act drastically tightens the chokehold on online expression in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of the National Legislative Assembly. “Hundreds of activists have been prosecuted since the May 2014 coup for exercising their freedom of expression online, and these latest amendments will make it even easier for the junta to punish its critics.” He added, “Under this draconian law, Internet users will have to look over their shoulders when going online. The Thai military government has now given itself sweeping power to monitor, search, and acquire information, invading people’s privacy on a massive scale.”
Barnes argued he had a right to post the negative reviews after the hotel’s service had been subpar and a restaurant manager was rude and aggressive towards him. After TripAdvisor was contacted by the business, however, it decided to temporarily suspend reviews of the hotel. It did submit a statement defending Barnes’ position, saying, “TripAdvisor is opposed to the idea that a traveler can be prosecuted for expressing opinions.”
“It seems like the hotel is ready to settle,” Barnes said, still hopeful that they can reach a mutually beneficial compromise. “I will meet them next week to hopefully end this case once and for all. It would be wonderful to have this behind us.”
Unfortunately, because of the country’s excessive censorship laws, travelers to Thailand may never know which accommodations were historically received negatively by those who visited. This could potentially put guests in a dangerous position if a posted review could have revealed crimes committed at the site.