Social media giant Facebook has banned Myanmar’s military and its affiliates from its platforms.
The company said it acted after deciding “the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] on Facebook and Instagram are too great”.
The military has used Facebook to boost its claim of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
More than half of Myanmar’s 54 million people use Facebook, which for many is synonymous with the internet.
Facebook had just days earlier already banned the military’s main page for breaching its guidelines following the 1 February coup.
Since the military seized power, it has arrested protesters, ordered internet blackouts and also banned social media platforms – including Facebook.
Facebook said in a statement late on Wednesday that it saw the “need for this ban” following the “events since the 1 February coup, including deadly violence”.
At least three protesters and one policemen having been killed in violence at rallies against the coup, which removed the South-east Asian nation’s elected government.
The social media platform also said it will also be banning Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities from advertising on the platform, adding that these bans would take effect immediately and would remain “indefinitely”.
It added that the ban would not cover government ministries and agencies engaged in public services, like the Health and Education Ministry.
The military and the internet
Protests are taking place on an almost daily basis on the streets of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
They have continued despite a thinly-veiled threat earlier this week by a military-linked broadcaster which suggested it would use lethal force against protesters.
Critics also say the military is trying to stamp out dissent online, by periodically shutting off access to the internet. It also temporarily blocked access to Facebook earlier.
Article 77 of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law, passed in 2013, is used by the government to cut off telecommunications during a national emergency.
Activists have for years been raising the alarm about Facebook’s role in spreading hate speech in Myanmar.
Long before the latest coup, there were fears that Facebook had the ability to amplify religious tensions in the country, which is majority Buddhist.
In 2014 the extremist anti-Muslim monk Ashin Wirathu shared a post alleging that a Buddhist girl had been raped by Muslim men. It went viral on Facebook.
Days later a mob descended on those accused of being involved and two people died in the ensuing violence. A police investigation later found that the monk’s accusation had been completely fabricated.
In 2017, Facebook was again put under the spotlight for its role in violence against the Rohingya minority.
A Reuters report found more than 1,000 posts, comments and images on Facebook attacking the Rohingya and Muslims.
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing – now the country’s military ruler – was found to have referred to Rohingya as “Bengalis” – reinforcing the notion that they are immigrants from Bangladesh even though many have been in the country for generations.
Facebook eventually banned Min Aung Hlaing and a number of other high-profile army figures. It was the first time Facebook had banned any country’s military or political leader.
A UN report in 2018 had found Facebook to be “slow and ineffective” in tackling hate speech. The “extent to which Facebook posts and messages have led to real-world discrimination and violence must be independently and thoroughly examined,” it said.
Facebook had then also acknowledged that many in Myanmar relied on the platform for information, “more so than in almost any other country”.