EXPLAINER: Why is Facebook banning Myanmar military pages?

Facebook announced Thursday that it is removing all remaining Myanmar military and military-controlled pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.

It said it will also block advertising from military-linked businesses.

The decision follows a Feb. 1 coup in which the military removed elected leaders from power and jailed others. Days after the coup the military temporarily blocked access to Facebook because it was being used to share anti-coup comments and organize protests.

Here's a look at Facebook's role in Myanmar and what the banning of the military pages means.

WHAT IS FACEBOOK'S ROLE IN MYANMAR?

For decades Myanmar 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.

Facebook was quick to capitalize on the changes, and soon began to be used by government agencies and shopkeepers alike to communicate.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, had over 22.3 million Facebook users in January 2020, more than 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.”

WHAT ISSUES HAS FACEBOOK FACED IN MYANMAR?

The social media platform has faced accusations of not doing enough to quell hate speech in the country.

In a 2018 report on army-led violence which forced more than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, Marzuki Darusman, head of the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said Facebook “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict.” He added, “Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that.”

Under pressure from the U.N. and international human rights groups, Facebook banned about 20 Myanmar military-linked individuals and organizations in 2018, including Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing, for involvement in severe human rights violations.

WHY IS FACEBOOK BANNING MORE MILITARY-LINKED PAGES NOW?

After the coup, Facebook said it would reduce distribution of all content from Myanmar's military, called the Tatmadaw, on its site, while also removing content that violates its community standards, including hate speech.

Facebook announced Thursday that it will ban all remaining Myanmar military-related entities from Facebook and Instagram, as well as ads from military-linked businesses.

“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 company said a statement.

The ban covers the air force, the navy, the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Border Affairs, Facebook Policy Communications Manager Amy Sawitta Lefevre said.

Facebook said it will leave up pages contributing to public welfare, including those of the Ministry of Health and Sports and the Ministry of Education.

WHAT IMPACT WILL IT HAVE?

The decision deprives the military of its largest communication platform.

“This is a welcome and long overdue step by Facebook,” Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, said in an emailed statement. “In a country where Facebook has been so incredibly popular, it’s a psychological blow for the military. They have put a lot of resources into using Facebook for propaganda purposes, to recruit soldiers and to raise funds.”

Facebook said it expects the military will attempt to regain a presence on the platform.

“In cases like these, we’re working to be as precise as possible, but we know we may miss some and we’ll keep refining our enforcement," Lefevre said.

Facebook declined to say how much revenue it expects to forgo from the loss of advertising from military-linked companies.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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