Fb is dealing with a settlement in Myanmar after being blocked by the navy

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Myanmar protesters living in Japan gather in Tokyo against Myanmar’s military

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From Fanny Potkin

(Reuters) – The Myanmar military’s blocking of Facebook access after the overthrow of the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi closes years of tensions between the social media company and the most powerful institution in a country where Facebook is used by half the population is being used.

The junta banned it on Wednesday Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ 🙂 until at least Sunday after the opponents of the regime started to organize. A new page on civil disobedience had garnered nearly 200,000 followers and the support of Burmese celebrities in the days following the coup, while a related hashtag was used millions of times.

“The Tatmadaw see Facebook as their internet nemesis because it is the dominant communication channel in the country and is hostile to the military,” Phil Robertson, associate director of Human Rights Watch Asia, told Reuters, referring to the army of the Country.

“With the Burmese online quickly to organize a massive campaign against civil disobedience, access to formwork is a top priority.”

A company spokeswoman called on the Myanmar authorities on Thursday to restore access to Facebook and WhatsApp for the country’s 54 million inhabitants.

Facebook must decide how to strike the delicate balance between protecting democratic politicians and activists and working with the new regime to restore services – a particularly acute example of the political dilemmas the company is facing worldwide.

In nearby Vietnam, for example, Facebook recently gave in to government demands to censor more political criticism in order to avoid a blockade.

The service has largely avoided shutdowns outside of countries like China where it has been blocked for a long time, but is currently under pressure in India, Turkey and elsewhere.

In Myanmar, Facebook has teamed up with civil rights activists and democratic political parties in recent years to fight back against the military after facing severe international criticism for not containing online hate campaigns.

In 2018, it banned Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing – now Myanmar’s military ruler – and 19 other senior officers and organizations, and removed hundreds of pages and accounts kept by military members for coordinated spurious conduct.

Prior to the November elections in Myanmar, Facebook announced that it had shut down a network of 70 fake accounts and pages owned by military personnel who posted either positive content about the army or criticism of Suu Kyi and her party.

A Reuters review earlier this week found dozens of pages and reports alleging electoral fraud – the reason the Army gave for taking power. The posts started in October and continued after the elections. In the 48 hours leading up to the coup, many sides called for military intervention.

After the coup, these pages turned into posts accusing the overthrown government of fraud and justifying the takeover. Some of the sites published coordinated posts criticizing or threatening politicians like Suu Kyi, journalists and activists.

Facebook deleted dozens of accounts on Wednesday just before it closed. Reuters could not determine their origin.

And just two days before the coup, the new military-appointed Minister of Information, Chit Hlaing, told a story allegedly from Radio Free Myanmar that Facebook banned after it was used in disinformation campaigns against Rohingya. The Minister was not immediately available for comment.

By Wednesday, both his account and the mail had been removed.

A military spokesman did not respond to multiple comments.

LIKE A “BAN ON THE INTERNET”

Facebook plays an oversized role in Myanmar, where for many residents it is synonymous with the Internet. According to United Nations investigators, Facebook was able to use the platform of radical Buddhist nationalists and military personnel to instigate a campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, 700,000 of whom fled army action in 2017

In response, Facebook sought to curb hate speech and misinformation, and forged partnerships with civil society, sometimes in conflict with the military. The company maintained its central role in the life of the country, and the Suu Kyi government regularly announced major initiatives on its Facebook pages.

“A ban on Facebook is practically a ban on the Internet,” Kachin ethnic human rights lawyer Zaw Htun Lat wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

A Facebook spokeswoman referred Reuters to an earlier statement by Southeast Asian Policy Director Rafael Frankel that Facebook was “removing misinformation that would delegitimize the November election result.”

She added that the company is treating Myanmar as an emergency and using artificial intelligence to limit content that may violate the rules on hate speech and incitement to violence.

At the same time, the military has been using Facebook since the coup began. The True News information unit provided daily updates prior to the shutdown on Thursday.

A page for the country’s new military president was created within a few hours on Monday. Since then, a handful of other official government sites have been overtaken by the regime, issuing official announcements from the Ministry of Information warning of “rumors” on social media that could lead to unrest and instability.

Facebook declined to comment on how it decides who can control the official government pages.

(In this story, the word “society” is added in paragraph 19.)

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