The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 26, 2021 1:00 am

What Facebook action means in Myanmar

VICTORIA MILKO | Associated Press

Facebook announced Thursday it is removing all remaining Myanmar military and military-controlled pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns. It said it will also block advertising from military-linked businesses.

The decision follows a Feb. 1 coup in which the military removed elected leaders from power and jailed others. Days after the coup, the military temporarily blocked access to Facebook because it was being used to share anti-coup comments and organize protests. Here's a look at Facebook's role in Myanmar and what the banning of the military pages means:

What is Facebook's role in Myanmar?

For decades Myanmar was one of the least-connected countries in the world, with less than 5% of the population using the internet in 2012, according to the International Telecommunication Union. When telecommunications began to be deregulated in 2013, Facebook was quick to capitalize on the changes, and soon began to be used by government agencies and shopkeepers alike to communicate. Myanmar had more than 22.3 million Facebook users in January 2020, more than 40% of its population, according to social media management platform NapoleonCat. 

What issues has Facebook faced in Myanmar?

The social media platform has faced accusations of not doing enough to quell hate speech in the country. Under pressure from the U.N. and international human rights groups, Facebook banned about 20 Myanmar military-linked individuals and organizations in 2018, including Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing, for involvement in human rights violations.

Why is Facebook banning more military-linked pages now?

After the coup, Facebook said it would reduce distribution of all content from Myanmar's military, called the Tatmadaw, on its site, while also removing content that violates its community standards, including hate speech. It said Thursday it will ban all remaining Myanmar military-related entities from Facebook and Instagram, as well as ads from military-linked businesses.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

What effect will it have?

The decision deprives the military of its largest communication platform. Facebook said it expects the military will attempt to regain a presence on the platform. It declined to say how much revenue it expects to forgo from the loss of advertising from military-linked companies.

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