An Update on the Situation in Myanmar

By Rafael Frankel, Director of Policy, APAC Emerging Countries

Update on December 7, 2021 at 11:00PM PT:

Expanding Our Ban of Tatmadaw-linked Businesses

We are expanding our ban of the Myanmar military (“Tatmadaw”) and will now also remove Pages, Groups and accounts representing military-controlled businesses. This builds on our existing ban on these entities advertising on Facebook, which was announced in February, and the various enforcement actions we’ve taken since then which are outlined below. 

We’re taking this latest action based on extensive documentation by the international community of these businesses’ direct role in funding the Tatmadaw’s ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Myanmar. This has formed the basis for escalating sanctions imposed by the US, EU, and other governments, and has been chronicled in painstaking reporting by civil society and human rights organizations. The Myanmar military has far-reaching commercial interests which are not always possible to definitively determine. So we are using the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2019 report on the economic interests of the Tatmadaw, as the basis to guide these efforts, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Our team continues to monitor the situation on the ground in Myanmar and we will continue to take any action necessary to keep our community safe.

Update on April 14, 2021 at 4:00PM PT:

Removing Praise, Support and Advocacy of Violence by Myanmar Security Forces and Protestors

We are implementing a specific policy for Myanmar to remove praise, support and advocacy of violence by Myanmar security forces and protestors from our platform.

This falls under our existing coordinating harm and publicizing crime policy and includes:

  • Praise and support of violence committed against civilians, the military or security forces in Myanmar
  • Praise, support or advocacy for the arrests of civilians by the military and security forces in Myanmar

For example, we’ll remove:

  • A post with an image showing shots fired into a crowd with the caption: “I support this!”
  • Posts explaining or arguing that lethal violence against people is right
  • Posts praising attacks that have been committed
  • An image of a person with a caption saying: “I support the shooting of people.”

We continue to closely monitor the situation in Myanmar and take the necessary steps to keep our platform safe.

Update on March 31, 2021 at 6:00PM PT:

Facebook Introduces a New Safety Feature in Myanmar

Today, we launched a new safety feature in Myanmar that allows you to lock your profile. We are constantly looking for additional ways to keep people safe and we’re committed to providing a secure platform for people to express themselves. 

Given the evolving situation on the ground in Myanmar and the conversations we’ve had in recent weeks about security concerns, including with activists, journalists and civil society groups, we understood that there was a need for additional safety features. 

This new feature allows you to lock your profile and is designed for people who want more control over their Facebook experience. It enables you to apply multiple existing privacy settings plus several new features to your Facebook profile in one easy step. When you lock your profile, non-friends cannot:

  • Enlarge, share or download your full size profile picture or cover photo 
  • See photos and posts on your timeline (both historic and new)

An indicator is added to your profile page to remind you your profile is locked. To turn on this feature, from your profile:

  • Tap the three dots under your name
  • Tap Lock Profile
  • Tap Lock Your Profile again to confirm

Update on February 24, 2021 at 8:00PM PT:

Myanmar military banned from Facebook and Instagram with immediate effect.

Today, we are banning the remaining Myanmar military (“Tatmadaw”) and military-controlled state and media entities from Facebook and Instagram, as well as ads from military-linked commercial entities. 

We’re continuing to treat the situation in Myanmar as an emergency and we remain focused on the safety of our community, and the people of Myanmar more broadly.  

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. 

We’re also prohibiting Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities from advertising on the platform. We are using the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2019 report, on the economic interests of the Tatmadaw, as the basis to guide these efforts, along with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These bans will remain in effect indefinitely. 

We’ve held the Tatmadaw to the same Community Standards as all of our users around the world and have removed content from military Pages and accounts that violated these policies. But we’ve reached this decision to ban them based on four guiding factors:

  1. The Tatmadaw’s history of exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence in Myanmar, where the military is operating unchecked and with wide-ranging powers. 
  2. The Tatmadaw’s history of on-platform content and behavior violations that led to us repeatedly enforcing our policies to protect our community. 
  3. Ongoing violations by the military and military-linked accounts and Pages since the February 1 coup, including efforts to reconstitute networks of Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior that we previously removed, and content that violates our violence and incitement and coordinating harm policies, which we removed.
  4. The coup greatly increases the danger posed by the behaviors above, and the likelihood that online threats could lead to offline harm. 

This action builds on the steps we have taken in recent years to prevent the Tatmadaw from abusing our platform. Among these are: banning 20 military-linked individuals and organisations in 2018, including Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, for their role in severe human rights violations; and removing at least six Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior networks run by the Tatmadaw from 2018 to 2020.

Since the coup, we have disabled the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page, and MRTV and MRTV Live Pages for continuing to violate our policies which prohibit coordinating harm and incitement to violence. We have also reduced the distribution of content on at least 23 pages and profiles controlled and/or operated by the Tatmadaw so fewer people see them. 

This ban does not cover government ministries and agencies engaged in the provision of essential public services. This includes the Ministry of Health and Sport, and the Ministry of Education. 

 We are continuing to monitor the situation and will take additional measures if necessary to keep people safe.  

Originally published February 11, 2021 at 6:00PM PT:

Following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, the situation on the ground remains volatile and Facebook is adapting to meet these events.

Our focus is three-fold: First, do everything we can to prevent online content from being linked to offline harm and keep our community safe. Second, protect freedom of expression for the tens of millions of Myanmar citizens who rely on Facebook now more than ever. Third, ensure that Facebook, Messenger and our family of apps stay online as a source of information and means of communication.

Facebook is treating the situation in Myanmar as an emergency. Our Integrity Operations Center has been running around the clock since the coup began. It brings together subject matter experts from across the company, including Myanmar nationals with native language skills, so we can monitor and respond to any threats in real time.

Beyond that, we’ve put several measures in place to support our community in Myanmar during this time.

Key among these is the decision to significantly reduce the distribution of all content on Facebook Pages and profiles run by the Myanmar Military (“Tatmadaw”) that have continued to spread misinformation. In line with our global policies on repeat offenders of misinformation, we will also no longer be recommending them to people. Among other military-run accounts, these measures apply to the Tatmadaw Information Team’s Facebook Page and to Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun’s Facebook account. This same action will be applied to any additional pages that the military controls that repeatedly violate our misinformation policies.

We have also indefinitely suspended the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send content removal requests to Facebook through our normal channels reserved for authorities around the world.

Simultaneously, we are protecting content, including political speech, that allows the people of Myanmar to express themselves and to show the world what is transpiring inside their country.

We’re also taking the following additional steps:

  • Continuing to enforce our policies on Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) to combat influence operations when we find networks we previously removed try to re-establish a presence on Facebook. We’re doing this through a combination of automated and manual detection. This includes enforcement actions we’ve taken during the past week against accounts connected to our past takedowns associated with the Myanmar military.
  • Enforcing our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to remove groups and individuals who seek to incite violence.
  • Providing extra protections for journalists, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and deposed political leaders to prevent online threats against them; and helping anyone who reasonably fears detention to secure their Facebook accounts and data from unauthorized access.
  • Continuing to proactively remove content that violates our Community Standards, especially hate speech, incitement to violence, bullying and harassment, and misinformation that can lead to physical harm.
  • Reducing the distribution of content in Myanmar that likely violates our hate speech and incitement policies, measures first taken during the November elections, as well as content that explicitly praises or supports the coup.
  • Removing misinformation claiming that there was widespread fraud or foreign interference in Myanmar’s November election.
  • Removing content that includes calls to bring weapons to any location across Myanmar.

These efforts build on our work since 2018 to keep people safe and reduce the risk of political violence in Myanmar. Last year, we worked to protect Myanmar’s 2020 election. We’ve also worked to reduce hate speech, ban certain individuals and organisations and partner with civil society to address challenges on the ground in Myanmar. While this work is never complete, we’ve made important progress. Between October and December last year, we took action on 350,000 pieces of content containing hate speech in Myanmar, of which 99% were detected before anyone reported it to us. (Updated on May 20, 2022 at 4:10PM PT to clarify the proactive rate definition.)

We are closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation in Myanmar, and are in close communication with governments, institutions and non-governmental organizations that care deeply about Myanmar’s future. We are also monitoring the impact of sanctions that are likely to be imposed in the coming days, and exploring additional measures that we will share soon.

We join with governments, the UN, and civil society around the world in calling for internet services in Myanmar to be restored immediately so that the people there can communicate with loved ones, express their political views, access important information, and run their businesses.

We remain vigilant to emerging trends and will not hesitate to take additional measures as appropriate.

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