Facebook Bans 'Dangerous' Armed Groups in Myanmar From Platform

By Moe Myint 5 February 2019

YANGON —Facebook announced on Tuesday afternoon that it has banned the four ethnic armed groups that comprise Myanmar’s Northern Alliance, calling them “dangerous organizations.”

It said all related praise, support and representation of the Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army would also be removed as soon as the company becomes aware of it.

“There is clear evidence that these organizations have been responsible for attacks against civilians and have engaged in violence in Myanmar, and we want to prevent them from using our services to further inflame tensions on the ground,” its statement said.

The company said it was aware that the sources of ethnic violence in the country were “incredibly complex and cannot be resolved by a social media company” but that it wanted to do whatever it could to minimize incitement and hate speech.

“We don’t want anyone to use Facebook to incite or promote violence, no matter who they are,” it said.

The company added that since August it has also banned some of Myanmar’s most senior military officials from the platform and taken down three networks that were “misrepresenting who they were and what they were doing.”

To reduce the likelihood that Facebook can be used to facilitate hate offline, the company said it was continually identifying and removing fake accounts, finding and removing violent actors, building better tools and technologies to “proactively find bad content” and updating its policies.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the Arakan Army said he was not aware of the ban and declined to comment. On Twitter, however, the group’s deputy chief-of-staff, Nyo Tun Aung, said the alliance members were freedom fighters and questioned Facebook’s decision to label them “dangerous organizations.”

Some Facebook users criticized the company’s decision to take down the pages and accused it of selectively targeting armed groups that have not signed Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. The country has dozens of active armed groups, most of which use Facebook to post updates on their clashes with the military or rival groups or on their negotiations with the military and government on a national peace accord.

Ko Maw Htun Aung, founder of Another Development, a Yangon-based social policy think-tank, said Facebook had become “frenetic” and was “overreacting to their past failure,” referring to Facebook activity that accompanied the Myanmar military’s crackdown in Rakhine State in late 2017, which drove some 700,000 Rohingya refugees into neighboring Bangladesh.

“Their lack of monitoring of real hate speech led to real-world consequences. However, that should not make them overreact, because it could lead to the curtailing of the freedom of speech in Myanmar,” he said.

Ko Maw Htun Aung said that when adopting new policies Facebook should distinguish between online activity that is and is not likely to cause real-world harm, and that posts by armed groups about their fighting with the military or other groups should not be considered a risk unless they explicitly call for violence.