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‘Risks too great’: Facebook bans Myanmar military

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Facebook is indefinitely banning the Myanmar military, military-controlled state and media entities, and even ads from military-linked commercial entities, from Facebook and Instagram. Earlier this week, Facebook had deleted the military’s main page under its moderation policies, a day after two protestors were killed when police opened fire at a demonstration against the February 1 coup.

Wednesday’s ban leaves out ministries or agencies working in essential public services, including the ministries of health and education.

“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban. We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” Facebook said.

The company said it arrived at the decision based on the military’s exceptionally severe human rights abuses and clear risk of “future military-initiated violence in Myanmar”; the military’s history of content violations; ongoing violations since the coup, including efforts to reconstitute networks of ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’. The coup increases the danger coming from all these behaviours and the likelihood that online threats could lead to offline harm.

The company said it’s relying on the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2019 report, on the economic interests of the Tatmadaw, as the basis to guide these efforts, along with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This was the same fact-finding mission wherein the UN had concluded that Facebook was used to whip up hatred against the Rohingyas, an ethnic and religious minority that faces persecution in Myanmar. 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, the report had said.

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On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The military first shut down the internet the day the coup was carried out. There have been sustained interruptions in internet access ever since, as demonstrations against the coup continue. It has also suspended Facebook and Twitter’s and Instagram’s operations at least on one occasion. Internet access was cut off from 1 am to 9 am local time for the eleventh night on February 25, according to Netblocks.

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