Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts for ‘enabling human rights abuses’

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Facebook is cracking down on the military leadership in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country where the social network has been identified as a factor contributing to ethnic tension and violence.

The U.S. company said today that it removed accounts belonging to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military-owned Myawady television network.

In total, the purge has swept up 18 Facebook accounts, 52 Facebook Pages and an Instagram account after the company “found evidence that many of these individuals and organizations committed or enabled serious human rights abuses in the country.”

Some 30 million of Myanmar’s 50 million population is estimated to use Facebook, making it a hugely effective broadcast network. But with wide reach comes the potential with misuse, as has been most evident in the U.S.

But the Facebook effect is also huge far from the U.S. A report from the UN issued in March determined that Facebook had played a “determining role” in Myanmar’s crisis. The situation in the country is so severe that an estimated 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees are thought to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following a Myanmar government crackdown that began in August. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has labeled the actions as ethnic cleansing.

Facebook’s action today comes a week after an investigative report from Reuters found more than 1,000 posts, comments and images that attacked Rohingya and other Muslim users on the platform. While a new report of finding from the UN also provides more context on how Facebook is used.

From the report:

The role of social media is significant. Facebook has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate, in a context where for most users Facebook is the Internet. Although improved in recent months, Facebook’s response has been slow and ineffective. The extent to which Facebook posts and messages have led to real-world discrimination and violence must be independently and thoroughly examined. The Mission regrets that Facebook is unable to provide country-specific data about the spread of hate speech on its
platform, which is imperative to assess the adequacy of its response.

“During a recent investigation, we discovered that they used seemingly independent news and opinion Pages to covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military. This type of behavior is banned on Facebook because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make,” Facebook said in a statement.

“While we were too slow to act, we’re now making progress – with better technology to identify hate speech, improved reporting tools, and more people to review content,” it added.

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