Explained: Why Facebook, Instagram took extreme step of banning Myanmar military

Published on Feb 25, 2021 04:40 PM IST

The social media giant said that it is banning the Tatmadaw, military-controlled state and media entities from Facebook and Instagram with immediate effect.

A protester holds a placard with a zero symbol over the face of Commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during an anti-coup rally.(AP)
A protester holds a placard with a zero symbol over the face of Commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during an anti-coup rally.(AP)
By | Written by Kunal Gaurav

Facebook Inc. has banned Myanmar’s military from its social media platforms in the aftermath of a coup that saw the ouster of the country's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The decision to ban the Tatmadaw came amid massive protests against the military rule and subsequent crackdown on the demonstrators. Days after Facebook took down the main page of the Myanmar military, the social media company on Wednesday said that it is banning the Tatmadaw, military-controlled state and media entities from Facebook and Instagram with immediate effect.

What led to the complete Facebook ban on the Myanmar military?

Citing the volatile situation in the country, Facebook announced a slew of measures on February 11 to “protect freedom of expression” of Myanmar citizens and “prevent online content from being linked to offline harm”.

The social media firm accused Myanmar’s military of spreading misinformation through their Facebook Pages and profiles, saying it has decided to significantly reduce the distribution of all content on such pages and profiles.

The military had questioned the authenticity of nearly 9 million votes in November elections, suggesting the possibility of “voting malpractice.” The United Elections Commission (UEC), a national level electoral commission responsible for organising and overseeing elections, later asserted that there was no evidence of electoral fraud. Facebook said that it will remove all misinformation claiming that there was widespread fraud or foreign interference in Myanmar’s November election.

On Wednesday, Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of policy for APAC emerging countries, said in a statement that the “risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great.” He said that Facebook is treating the situation in Myanmar as an emergency and events following the military coup, including the deadly shooting, have precipitated a need for this ban.

Read | Myanmar blocks Wikipedia in all languages: NetBlocks

Here’s are the guiding factors that led to Facebook’s decision to ban the Tatmadaw:

The Facebook official noted that Myanmar’s military has a history of “exceptionally severe human rights abuses” and there’s a clear risk of violence in future initiated by the military.

Frankel cited Tatmadaw’s history of on-platform content and behaviour violations as one of the guiding factors.

He said that that coup greatly increases the danger posed by the behaviours of military Pages and accounts and the online threats could lead to offline harm.

How has Facebook fared in the past?

During the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, the ethnic minority group in Myanmar, several reports claimed that Myanmar military personnel turned Facebook into a tool for ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to take refuge in several camps in Bangladesh after the Tatmadaw launched a crackdown on the minority group. Last year, Facebook announced course correction ahead of the November elections after admitting that it failed to prevent the misuse of its platforms to “foment division and incite offline violence” in Myanmar.

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