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Facebook removes Myanmar military’s main page

Facebook has deleted the main page of the Myanmar military under its moderation policies, a day after two protestors were killed when police opened fire at a demonstration against the February 1 coup, reported Reuters. The junta’s True News page was not available on February 21, Sunday. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed this to Reuters and said the True News Information Team Page was removed for repeated violations of Community Standards that prohibit incitement of violence and coordinating harm.

Two people were killed in Mandalay on Saturday when polices and soldiers opened fire at protestors demonstrating against the military coup that deposed the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Mandalay and Yangon have become the centre of the demonstrations.

The country has seen eight consecutive night-time internet shutdowns, where in internet access if cut off between 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. local time, per internet blockages monitoring website Netblocks. Starting February 15, people began losing connectivity for eight hours every night, as protests against the coup continued. According to Netblocks, on February 18, Wikipedia was blocked upon the order of the military junta. All language editions, associated websites including Wikidata, and the Wikimedia Foundation’s corporate presence were restricted on major network providers. February 21 was the eight consecutive night of internet being shut during the night. According to NPR, the US embassy in Yangon has received reports that Internet and mobile data “may not be available” on Monday in the city for the first half of the day.

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Earlier this month, a few days after the coup, Facebook said it has significantly reduced distribution of pages and profiles run by the Myanmar military that spread misinformation. Significantly, Facebook has stopped taking content removal requests from Myanmar’s government bodies through the normal channels available for other governments.

On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, claiming widespread fraud during the November 2020 elections in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy received a landslide 80% of the vote. Ever since the coup, protesters have held demonstrations countrywide, defying the junta’s call to halt mass gatherings, and amidst detention of protesters.

The military has shut down the internet in the entire country thrice since the coup, including the day the coup was carried out. It has also suspended Facebook and Twitter’s and Instagram’s operations at least on one occasion.

Facebook has a fraught history when it comes to Myanmar, a country battered from isolation and ethnic faultlines for many years. In 2018, a team of United Nations investigators found that Facebook was used to whip up hatred against the Rohingyas. Facebook had failed to take down hate speech in Myanmar because it did not have enough content moderators who knew Burmese, leading to proliferation of hateful content across the platform. Despite civil-society organisations warning Facebook, it was only later that the social media giant admitted that it had not done enough to prevent the platform from being “used to foment division and incite offline violence”.

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