Facebook curbs Myanmar military content, citing misinformation

Facebook is taking direct steps to stop distribution of the military's narrative in the country.
Facebook is taking direct steps to stop distribution of the military's narrative in the country.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook 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 US 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 military controls that repeatedly violate our misinformation policies", it said in a statement.

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

Facebook said it's treating the situation as an emergency, mobilising resources including Myanmar nationals with native language skills to respond to any threats swiftly.

The Menlo Park, California-based company is prioritising 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 in Myanmar 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 Ms 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 Mr 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 began to gather 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.

Earlier troops used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators.