Facebook, digital tea shop in Myanmar, decides to be on the right side of history. This time

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Feb 12, 2021, 10:32 PM(IST)

Facebook is facing $3.2 billion class-action lawsuit in UK Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Facebook said on Friday it would reduce the distribution of all content and profiles run by Myanmar’s military, saying they have “continued to spread misinformation” after the army seized power and detained civilian leaders in a coup on February 1.

It is widely said that, in Myanmar, Facebook is the digital tea shop. It played a role in the Rohingya refugess crisis, and the genocide before it.

And as Myanmar's military seized control in a coup on February 1, many Burmese watched events unfold on Facebook in real-time. 

Facebook plays an outsized role in Myanmar, where for many residents it is synonymous with the internet. 

United Nations investigators say that Facebook allowed the platform to be used by radical Buddhist nationalists and members of the military to fan a campaign of violence towards the Muslim Rohingya minority, 700,000 of whom fled an army crackdown in 2017. 

In response, Facebook tried to tamp down hate speech and misinformation and ramped up partnerships with civil society,sometimes in conflict with the military. The company maintained its central role in the life for the country, and Aung San Suu Kyi's government regularly announced major initiatives on its Facebook pages.

Another report claims Facebook was turned into a tool for ethnic cleansing in Myanmar -- with the military driving the anti-Rohingya propaganda through posts that incited murder and rape.

Ahead of the Myanmar's November election, Facebook announced it had taken down a network of 70 fake accounts and pages operated by members of the military that had posted either positive content about the army or criticism of Suu Kyi and herparty.

A Reuters review early this week found dozens of pages and accounts alleging election fraud - the reason given by the army for seizing power. The posts started in October and continued after the election; in the 48 hours before the coup, many of the pages called for military intervention.

After the coup, those pages turned to posts accusing the ousted government of fraud and justifying the takeover, the review showed. Some of the pages published coordinated posts criticizing or threatening politicians like Suu Kyi as well as journalists and activists.

Facebook took down dozens of the accounts on Wednesday,shortly before being shut down. Reuters could not determine their provenance.

The public scrutiny forced Facebook to act, and by December 2018, it had removed 425 pages, 17 groups, and 15 Instagram accounts.

Facebook claimed these accounts were disguised as news and entertainment pages. But they actually belonged to the military.

In 2018, it banned army chief Min Aung Hlaing - now Myanmar's military ruler - and 19 other senior officers and organisations, and took down hundreds of pages and accounts run by military members for coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

Three years after it banned the general, Facebook now faces the challenge of protecting Myanmar's democracy.

And the company has vowed to be on the right side of history this time.

Facebook said on Friday it would reduce the distribution of all content and profiles run by Myanmar’s military, saying they have “continued to spread misinformation” after the army seized power and detained civilian leaders in a coup on February 1.

The measures – which are not a ban, but are aimed at reducing the number of people who see the content – will apply to an official page run by the army and one by a spokesperson, the company said in a statement, as well as “any additional pages that the military controls that repeatedly violate our misinformation policies”.

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