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Facebook on Wednesday completely banned Burma's military from accessing the platform as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with the fallout from a military coup on Feb. 1.
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The decision comes after the social media giant announced earlier this month that it would "significantly reduce" content from accounts linked to the Burmese military.
The company is "banning the remaining Myanmar military ('Tatmadaw') and military-controlled state and media entities from Facebook and Instagram, as well as ads from military-linked commercial entities," Facebook's director of policy for APAC emerging countries, Rafael Frankel, said in a Wednesday update to a Feb. 11 blog post.
In this image taken from video posted on the Tatmadaw True Information Team Facebook page, State Administrative Council Chairman and Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing makes a televised statement. (Tatmadaw True Information Team Facebook
The company is treating continued violence and protests in the country as an emergency and said that "events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban."
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The platform is also banning Burmese military-linked companies from advertising on Facebook and is using the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Burma's "2019 report on the economic interests" of the military, as well as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, "as the basis to guide these efforts," Frankel said.
Tensions in Burma escalated earlier this month when the Burmese military seized power shortly after detaining the country's new democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The military has since blocked access to Facebook as calls for protest grew throughout the nation.
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For decades, Burma 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 by a quasi-civilian government in 2013, the price of SIM cards for cellphones plummeted, opening a new market of users.
People display pictures of Tin Htut Hein during his funeral in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (AP Photo)
Facebook was quick to capitalize on the changes and soon began to be used by government agencies and shopkeepers alike to communicate.
Burma had more than 22.3 million Facebook users in January 2020, about 40% of its population, according to social media management platform NapoleonCat. For many in the country, Facebook effectively is the internet.
"The role of Facebook is vital in the country," said Nickey Diamond, a Myanmar human rights specialist with the group Fortify Rights. "In Myanmar, Facebook is one of the most important communication platforms to the people."
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Congressional lawmakers and tech experts previously condemned the tech giant's use of personal data among Burmese users in 2018 that the U.N. said potentially played a role in inciting possible genocide in the country against Rohingya Muslims.
The Rohingya were targeted in a brutal 2017 army counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 to neighboring Bangladesh. Critics say the army’s actions constituted genocide.
Buddhist monks display pictures of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a street march against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (AP Photo)
Facebook later admitted it didn't do enough to prevent its services from being used to incite violence and spread hate in Burma and removed several accounts linked to Burma's military, including that of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the officer who led the Feb. 1 coup.
The company said at the time that it "can and should do more" to protect human rights and ensure it isn’t used to foment division and spread offline violence in the country, according to a blog post from Alex Warofka, a product policy manager.
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Facebook then commissioned the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility to study the company’s role in Burma and released the group’s 62-page report in November 2018. The report confirmed that Facebook was used to inflame ethnic and religious conflict in the country, particularly against Rohingya Muslims.
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Frankel, in the blog post, detailed a number of ways Facebook plans to suppress hate speech and misinformation and offer protections for free speech on the platform.
The company said, for example, that it would provide "extra protections for journalists, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and deposed political leaders to prevent online threats against them" and help "anyone who reasonably fears detention to secure their Facebook accounts and data from unauthorized access."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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