Military personnel had used Facebook extensively to push propaganda against the Rohingya minority group amid a genocidal campaign beginning in 2017, prompting many to blame the company for enabling mass murder — a point underscored by a scathing U.N. report in 2018 that concluded Facebook played a key role in fomenting violence.
Since taking power in a coup on Feb. 1 that deposed the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military has imposed controls on the Internet and sporadically banned social media platforms including, briefly, Facebook, while also using the site to publicize its own pronouncements and decrees.
Facebook is the de facto Internet in Myanmar, used almost universally for communication and access to everyday services, and has emerged as a major platform for organizing resistance to the military coup.
The ban announced Wednesday affects the Air Force, the Navy, the Ministry of Defense and other government agencies and spokespeople, Facebook said.
“We’re continuing to treat the situation in Myanmar as an emergency and we remain focused on the safety of our community, and the people of Myanmar more broadly,” Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of policy for emerging countries in the Asia-Pacific region, said in a post Wednesday night. “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.”
Ahead of the announcement, pages of the Myanmar Navy and other military-linked accounts could not be accessed.
Facebook in 2018 removed the accounts of the commander in chief of the Myanmar military, Min Aung Hlaing, and other military top brass after coming under pressure including from the United Nations for doing too little to stop the proliferation of hate speech on its platform, particularly against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Myanmar military in 2017 launched a “scorched earth” campaign against the Rohingya, driving more than 1 million out of their homes to neighboring Bangladesh amid accusations of indiscriminate killings, rape and torture.
Human rights activists say Facebook’s inaction allowed the military to whip up hate against the Rohingya and lay the groundwork for the bloodshed, which was generally accepted, and even praised, by many in Myanmar.
Since the military coup, the military has subjected major cities to a communications blackout between the hours of 1 and 9 a.m. in an effort to depress the effectiveness of protests such as the nationwide general strike Monday. Activists have switched to international SIM cards with data roaming functionality, an expensive workaround, and see Facebook and other platforms like Twitter and Instagram as crucial to their organizing efforts.
Facebook had been removing other pages linked to the military in a piecemeal manner since the coup, including state media pages such as the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page and the MRTV and MRTV Live Pages, saying they violate the platform’s policies. These pages have broadcast military decrees and warnings — crucial for journalists, citizens and others to understand how the army might respond to an upcoming protest or strike.
Mahtani reported from Hong Kong.
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