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Facebook reduces spread of content from at least two Myanmar military accounts; stops taking content removal requests from new govt

Facebook says it has significantly reduced distribution of all content on pages and profiles run by the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, “that have continued to spread misinformation”. These accounts will not be recommended to people, it said on Thursday.

The rule will apply to Tatmadaw Information Team’s Facebook page and to the spokesperson for the Tatmadaw Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun’s Facebook account, among “other military-run accounts”. The policy will be applied to “any additional pages” that the military “controls” that “repeatedly” violates the platform’s misinformation policies, said Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s Director of Policy for APAC Emerging Countries.

The platform will also:

  • Reduce distribution of content that “likely” violates its hate speech and incitement policies, as well as content that “explicitly praises or supports the coup”
  • Remove misinformation claiming widespread fraud or foreign interference in Myanmar’s November election (which the Myanmar military declared fraudulent)
  • Remove calls to bring weapons to any location across Myanmar

Significantly, Facebook has stopped taking content removal requests from Myanmar’s government bodies through the normal channels available for other governments. “We have indefinitely suspended the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send content removal requests to Facebook through our normal channels reserved for authorities around the world,” it said.

On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in a bid to consolidate its power. The military launched the coup after claiming widespread fraud during the November 2020 elections/ Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy received a landslide 80% of the vote. The military has now detained and charged Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since the coup. 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 twice 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. It’s unclear if Facebook and other social media services are currently accessible in the country. Sanctions imposed by the United State on Thursday target 10 current and former military officials deemed responsible for the coup. The United Nations Human Rights Council is due to discuss Myanmar at a special session on Friday.

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Facebook said it is treating the situation in Myanmar “as an emergency”.

Our Integrity Operations Center has been running around the clock since the coup began. It brings together subject matter experts from across the company, including Myanmar nationals with native language skills, so we can monitor and respond to any threats in real time.

Facebook also claims that it is providing extra protections for journalists, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and deposed political leaders “to prevent online threats against them” and is “helping anyone who reasonably fears detention to secure their Facebook accounts and data from unauthorized access”. The company said it took action on 350,000 pieces of content containing hate speech between October and December 2020 in Myanmar.

We join with governments, the UN, and civil society around the world in calling for internet services in Myanmar to be restored immediately so that the people there can communicate with loved ones, express their political views, access important information, and run their businesses.

Facebook failed to act over hate speech against Rohingyas

Facebook has a fraught history when it comes to Myanmar, a country battered from isolation and ethnic fault-lines for many years. A few years ago, the country launched a violent campaign against the Rohingya people, an ethnic and religious minority. Myanmar’s soldiers massacred people between 2016 and 2017, forcing around 800,000 Rohingyas to flee into Bangladesh.

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”.

Marzuki Darusman, who headed the UN’s fact-finding mission on Myanmar, had said the platform had contributed to acrimony and conflict within the public. Referring to the widespread usage of Facebook in Myanmar society, he had also said, “As far as the Myanmar situation, social media is Facebook and Facebook is social media.”

Facebook removed the account of military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and other military officials and organisations. The platform previosuly removed accounts run by the military in 2018 and 2019.

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