Facebook Removes More Than 20 Accounts, Pages Linked to Myanmar Military-Backed Mytel

By The Irrawaddy 13 February 2020

YANGON—Facebook on Wednesday removed 13 accounts and 10 pages promoting Myanmar military-back telecom operator Mytel for violating its policy against using its services to manipulate people and engage in “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.

It said individuals used fake accounts to manage pages posing as independent telecom consumer news hubs. The Myanmar audience-focused activities originated in Myanmar and Vietnam.

Facebook said in its Feb. 1announcement that “Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to two telecom providers—Mytel in Myanmar and Viettel in Vietnam—and Gapit Communications, a PR firm in Vietnam.”

Mytel—which is a joint venture with Viettel, a Vietnam telecom operator owned by the country’s Defense Ministry—is the fourth telecom operator in Myanmar and launched its network in June 2018. Viettel owns 49 percent of Mytel; Star High Company, a subsidiary of Myanmar Military’s Economic Holdings Ltd, owns 28 percent; and a consortium of 11 local companies, Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public Ltd., owns the rest.

According to Facebook, about 265,600 Facebook accounts had followed one or more of the banned pages, which spent around US$1.1 million (1.6 billion kyats) for ads on Facebook.

It said, “Around $1,155,000 [was spent on] ads on Facebook paid for in US dollars and Vietnamese dong.
We found this activity as part of our investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region.”

The page admins and account owners typically shared content in English and Burmese about alleged business failures and planned market exits of some service providers in Myanmar, and alleged fraudulent activity against customers.

They also purported to be customers of some of the telecom providers in Myanmar posting critical commentary about those rival companies—state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecoms (MPT), Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Oreedoo—and their services.

Facebook has been removing military-linked accounts and pages since August 2018, starting with a ban on the Facebook page of army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. It made another mass removal of accounts and pages linked to the military in December that year, saying they were engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior

Besides Myanmar and Vietnam in Southeast Asia, Facebook also removed Russian-originated accounts—78 Facebook accounts, 11 Pages, 29 Groups and four Instagram accounts—which violate its policy against foreign or government interference. The networks of the accounts and pages targeted Ukraine and its neighboring countries.

It also removed six Iran-originated Facebook accounts and five Instagram accounts involved in foreign interference targeting the United States.

“Today, we removed three unconnected networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in foreign or government interference—which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a government or foreign actor—on Facebook and Instagram,”it said.

Facebook added, “Each of them created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. We have shared information about our findings with industry partners.”

In December, Facebook removed two unconnected networks of accounts, pages and groups for coordinated inauthentic behavior, which involved engaging in foreign and government interference from Georgia, Vietnam and the US.

In February last year, Facebook banned the pages and accounts related to four ethnic armed groups that comprise Myanmar’s Northern Alliance—the Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army—calling them “dangerous organizations.”

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