Facebook has removed profiles for several high-ranking officials in the Myanmar military from its core platform, as well as an Instagram account, citing a need to prevent the spread of "hate and misinformation".
The unprecedented move, which is the first time Facebook has banned a country's political or military leaders, comes following months of criticism over the role of Facebook in the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority.
Numerous bodies including the UK government have criticised Facebook for allowing misinformation and hate speech to proliferate on its platform, fueling ethnic violence and making humanitarian aid more difficult. By finally removing the profiles of a number of Burmese military personnel, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Facebook has essentially cut off the military's main channel of public communication.
Facebook has removed a total of 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook Pages, followed by almost 12m people, although it is preserving the data, including the content, on the accounts and Pages removed. In addition to banning General Min Aung Hlaing, Facebook has banned the military's television network, Myawady, along with other Pages, for engaging in a sustained campaign that "used seemingly independent news and opinion pages to covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military."
The bans were made just hours after United Nations investigators declared that the army had carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with "genocidal intent", and called for the commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forced to be prosecuted for "the gravest crime under international law". These findings, along with the work of organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, prompted Facebook's action.
"We want to prevent [these individuals and organisations] from using our service to further inflame ethnic and religious tensions," said Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja in a post on the action. "We continue to work to prevent the misuse of Facebook in Myanmar - including through the independent human rights impact assessment we commissioned earlier in the year.
"This is a huge responsibility given so many people ther rely on Facebook for information - more so than in almost any other country given the nascent state of the news media and the recent rapid adoption of mobile phones. It's why we're so determined to do better in the future."