Facebook Finally Bans Myanmar Military After February 1 Coup

Facebook Finally Bans Myanmar Military After February 1 Coup
A friend of Myanmar protester Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who died after being shot during a rally against the military coup, looks at pictures of her on a phone during a memorial service in Naypyidaw on February 25, 2021. (Photo: STR/AFP, Getty Images)

Facebook finally banned the military in Myanmar, known as Tatmadaw, from the social media platform several weeks after the military staged a coup that toppled the democratically elected government. The ban on the country’s military includes Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

“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,” Rafael Frankel, director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region, said in a statement posted online late Wednesday.

“We’re also prohibiting Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities from advertising on the platform,” Frankel continued. “We are using the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2019 report, on the economic interests of the Tatmadaw, as the basis to guide these efforts, along with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These bans will remain in effect indefinitely.”

Facebook has already taken down military-connected pages like Tatmadaw True News Information Team, MRTV, and MRTV Live since the coup earlier this month.

Facebook’s statement doesn’t mention the 20-year-old protester, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head during an anti-coup protest in Myanmar and later died in the hospital, but that event has attracted condemnation from around the world.

The Myanmar government is currently being run by the military, but Facebook made sure to stress that certain parts of government that are vital to public health and wellbeing, such as the Ministry of Health and Sport and the Ministry of Education, will not be affected by the new ban.

Facebook is tremendously popular in Myanmar and one of the first things the military government did after taking power was to ban the social media platform. Service has been highly restricted ever since, with Netblocks reporting that Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are all currently down.

Facebook came under heavy criticism after the platform was used to incite genocide in Myanmar in 2018 but the company insisted on Wednesday that it held the military to the same standards as everyone else. The new statement lists four factors that caused Facebook to make this decision:

  1. The Tatmadaw’s history of exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence in Myanmar, where the military is operating unchecked and with wide-ranging powers.
  2. The Tatmadaw’s history of on-platform content and behaviour violations that led to us repeatedly enforcing our policies to protect our community.
  3. Ongoing violations by the military and military-linked accounts and Pages since the February 1 coup, including efforts to reconstitute networks of Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour that we previously removed, and content that violates our violence and incitement and coordinating harm policies, which we removed.
  4. The coup greatly increases the danger posed by the behaviours above, and the likelihood that online threats could lead to offline harm.

The difficult part to understand, of course, is why points one, two, and four in the list weren’t enough for a ban on February 1 or earlier. The word “history” is used in points one and two, an implicit acknowledgement that none of this is new.

Optimists are fond of saying “better late than never,” but that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re talking about things like genocide and military coups. But, better late than never, Facebook.