After a violent coup on February 1, wherein the military of Myanmar overthrew the civilian government, Facebook moved to ban the military’s hate speech on their platform. Myanmar has only recently become connected with the internet on a large scale, with as few as five percent of people in the country using the internet in 2012.
In 2013, deregulation of the tech sector in the country led to an explosion in popularity for smartphones and personal computers. For many in the country, the internet and Facebook are interchangeable: the service is massive in Myanmar. Some forty percent of people in the country have an account and use the site regularly. Government agencies often use Facebook for communication.
Following an uptick in hate speech in the country leading to increased military action against ethnic minorities in the country, a spotlight was turned on Facebook. The site has been known to promote controversial content for the sake of engagement, leading to accusations that Facebook isn’t doing enough to curtail hate speech on their platform.
Given the massive role of Facebook in Myanmar, the UN even stepped in to chastise the platform for not doing enough to regulate the content on the site. In response, Facebook has sharply restricted what the Myanmar military can post in the past.
Following the coup on February 1, Facebook said it would reduce the amount of Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) posts on the site, and would aggressively take down any posts that violated their community standards.
However, by Thursday, Facebook had changed their tune, instead resolving to simply ban the Tatmadaw from the platform outright. “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 social media giant said in a recent statement.
Instagram, which Facebook also owns, also saw the Tatmadaw banned completely. According to Facebook Policy Communications Manager Amy Sawitta Lefevre, the ban encompasses the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Home Affairs, the air force, the navy and the Ministry of Border Affairs.
By banning the Tatmadaw, Facebook has completely removed the organization’s largest way to communicate with the people of Myanmar. As mentioned earlier, for many in the country, Facebook essentially is the internet. This is tantamount to kicking the military off of the internet altogether in Myanmar.