A failed April Fool’s Day prank has shaken Thai Vietjet Airline after they posted a joke promotion of a new route from Nan Province to Munich starting at 1,010 baht, which some royalists found offensive to the monarchy.
A deleted Thai Vietjet's tweet
Nan is the birthplace of Royal Consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, and Munich is the airport which the King reportedly uses when he visits his residences in Bavaria.
Sineenat has taken part in a number of royal missions alongside the King, or both the King and Queen.
Some comments under the tweet obviously got the joke, others naively missed it and some felt that the prank was improper. The Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims and the People's Centre for the Protection of Monarchy, civil society groups known for their pro-monarchy stance, pledged to submit a letter of concern at the Airline’s office on Monday (4 April), demanding that the Airline take responsibility for the allegedly damaging prank.
The original prank tweet and the apology statement have been deleted from the Thai Vietjet Twitter account. However, on 2 April, Manager Online reported a statement from Woranate Laprabang, CEO of the low-cost airline, saying that they did not have any policy to approve or support such online content.
The company had ordered the removal of the content and suspended the employee who oversees the social media until an internal investigation is complete.
The statement did not end the controversy. Nopadol Prompasit, founder of the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims posted on the Centre’s Facebook page that he was informed by Woranate that he had requested a royal pardon from the Royal Palace Bureau.
The page also claimed that people have been calling the Airline to make threats and express dissatisfaction, which a later comment asked people not to do.
On 3 April, Vivaldi Integrated Public Relations, a company hired by the Airline for its PR posted on Facebook a statement that it was not involved with the prank in any way, as the company was responsible only for delivering PR content directly to the media. They would proceed legally against any comments on the internet that affected their reputation.
On the same day, Sanook news reported that the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand had summoned the Airline to give them information regarding the issue on 4 April.
On 4 April, the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims posted a statement that the Airline should not have carried out the April Fool’s Day prank as people may have believed that the information was real, which would amount to customer fraud.
The ‘Keywords’ used in the prank, the locations and price were all related to the monarchy, an institution that Thai people respect and which is now being directly and indirectly undermined by many parties. The Airline should not make fun of the monarchy, said the statement, citing their discontent with the wave of criticism of the monarchy that the prank stirred.
The statement expressed gratitude to the Airline executives for taking responsibility and issuing a statement. However, the group would start legal proceedings against the person responsible. The Centre asked the Airline to give them the name of the person who posted the tweets as a sign that the Airline was not a part of the prank.
the Centre’s tough stance against the Airline was echoed by other disgruntled public figures known for their pro-monarchy stance. Seri Wongmontha, a television host and former sympathizer with the People's Democratic Reform Committee movement that helped to topple the elected government through the 2014 coup, stated that legal action should be taken against the Airline.
Former Democrat Party MP and now Thai Pakdee Party founder Warong Detkitvikrom posted that he would have established a committee to investigate Thai Vietjet if he had the power to do so because a Vietnamese-based company dared to promote something improper thing while operating in Thailand.
Srisuwan Janya, a political activist posted on Facebook on 4 April that he would file a complaint against the Airline for defaming the monarchy under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and for uploading false information onto internet, citing Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act.
According to the Britannica, the origin of April Fool’s Day is still debatable. April Fool’s Day, also known as All Fool’s Day, is the day when people playing jokes on each other. Similar days are seen in ancient Rome and India. One hypothesis argues that the modern April Fool’s Day originated in France when King Charles IX decreed the new year to start on January 1 instead of Easter, calling those who rejected the Edict “April Fools”.
Some suggest a connection to the vernal equinox on March 21 when people may be fooled by sudden changes in the weather.
Despite not being officially recognized, Thais have posted jokes on the internet, using April Fool’s Day as an excuse. The fun in fact bears the risk of being charged with uploading false information under the Computer Crime Act.
On 1 April, Pol Col Siriwat Deepor, a Deputy Police Spokesperson, warned that posting or sharing content that may affect public and national security would be a violation of Section 14 (2) of the Computer Crime Act and risks up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to 100,000 baht.
Thai Vietjet is a low-cost airline under Vietjet Air, a Vietnam-based company. Vietjet Air is the first private company in Vietnam to be allowed to operate flights both internationally and domestically. Its first domestic flight in Thailand was from Suvarnabhumi to Chiang Mai in 2013.