Facebook said on Monday it was removing several Myanmar military officials from the social media website and an Instagram account to prevent the spread of “hate and misinformation” after reviewing the content.
It was the first time Facebook banned a country’s military or political leaders, according to Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja. She said the bans could not be appealed.
Facebook also said it removed dozens of accounts for engaging in a campaign that “used seemingly independent news and opinion pages to covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military.”
Facebook’s action came hours after United Nations investigators said the army carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent.” Their report said the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces and five general should be prosecuted for orchestrating the gravest crimes under the law.
Facebook’s Budhraja said the United Nations findings as well as media reports and advocacy groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch informed the company’s decision. Facebook declined to make executives available for comment on the bans.
Facebook’s action means an essential blackout of the military’s main channel of public communication, with pages followed by millions of people no longer available to a population that sees the social media app as virtually synonymous with the internet.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment. He was quoted by local media as saying Myanmar had asked Facebook for further details on the reasons for the ban.
“Specifically, we are banning 20 Burmese individuals and organizations from Facebook — including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military’s Myawady television network,” Facebook said in a blog post.
"We're removing a total of 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook Pages, followed by almost 12 million people," the Menlo Park, California-based company added.
The UN report said Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, and five generals should be prosecuted for orchestrating the gravest crimes under law.
A preview of Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page was still accessible immediately after the announcement and showed it had been “liked” by 1.3 million people. When Reuters attempted to return to it later it had been removed.
The UN investigators highlighted the role of social media in Myanmar in Monday’s report. “Facebook has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate, in a context where for most users Facebook is the Internet,” said the report.