Facebook Curbs Myanmar Army Content as Protests Intensify

Facebook Inc. will significantly reduce the distribution of content from profiles and pages run by the Myanmar military, treating it as a source of misinformation in the wake of the Feb. 1 coup that deposed the elected government.

While U.S. social networks have often been reluctant to pick sides in political disputes, Facebook is taking direct steps to stop distribution of the military’s narrative in the country. The company is curbing the reach of its information team and spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, adding “this same action will be applied to any additional pages that the army controls that repeatedly violate our misinformation policies,” it said in a statement.

Facebook Curbs Myanmar Army Content as Protests Intensify

“Following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, the situation on the ground remains volatile and Facebook is adapting to meet these events,” Rafael Frankel, director of policy for APAC emerging countries, said in the post.

Facebook said it’s treating the situation in the Southeast Asian nation as an emergency, mobilizing resources including Myanmar nationals with native language skills to respond to any threats swiftly. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is prioritizing the prevention of offline harm caused by content shared across its apps and services, while also preserving freedom of expression for local citizens. It is putting additional protections in place for journalists, activists and deposed political leaders and removing misinformation alleging widespread fraud or foreign interference in the country’s November election.

The Biden administration was quick to denounce the coup and implement sanctions against its leaders. Thousands of protesters have been in the streets in defiance of a military order, demanding the release of political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi. The army has responded by detaining more of her aides.

The military junta has stepped up its crackdown on civil servants, lawyers, and other professionals in a bid to quell protests ahead of the large demonstrations planned for Friday, a public holiday in the nation. It’s also ordered the release of more than 23,000 prisoners, including 55 foreigners, a move that is likely aimed at weakening the protest movement and strengthening support for the coup leaders.

“We’re seeing an alarming increase in arrests and detentions, usually at night, all arbitrary,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, a human rights group. “If the amnesty is meant to free up space for political prisoners, then we’re seeing new heights of political oppression.”

Demonstrators gathered in front of the United Nations office and foreign embassies in Yangon on Friday, while there were protests in the capital Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Mawlamyine, according to social media updates. The gatherings, now into their second week, are taking place despite the risk of violence from security forces.

Police fired rubber bullets into the crowds in Mawlamyine, Thein Htut Soe, a protester who witnessed the shootings on Friday, said over the telephone. Troops have used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators earlier as well.

“The indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable,” U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said in a statement Friday ahead of a special assembly of the Human Rights Council to discuss the crisis. “More violence against Myanmar’s people will only compound the illegitimacy of the coup, and the culpability of its leaders.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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