Facebook says it is banning the most powerful figure in Myanmar, commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, and 17 other accounts to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation.
The tech firm was criticised for permitting its site to be used to inflame ethnic and religious conflict in the Facebook-obsessed country, particularly against minority Rohingya Muslims.
The UN’s top human rights branch this week called for the generals to face prosecution for genocide against the Rohingya.
The internet giant said it would block 18 accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages linked to Burmese generals, who were found by the United Nations to have perpetuated hate, enslavement and “crimes against humanity” with impunity.
The 52 pages were collectively followed by 12 million people.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing faces calls to be tried for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine State.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is nominally in control of the civilian aspects of the Nay Pyi Taw government, has been almost entirely silent on the issue.
The Nobel peace prize laureate failed to mention the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State during an address in Singapore this month and her international reputation is now in tatters.
Facebook announced: “The ethnic violence in Myanmar has been truly horrific. Earlier this month, we shared an update on the steps we’re taking to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation on Facebook. While we were too slow to act, we’re now making progress – with better technology to identify hate speech, improved reporting tools, and more people to review content.”
The military’s Myawady television network is also banned.
“We want to prevent them from using our service to further inflame ethnic and religious tensions,” Facebook said.
Around 46 pages and 12 accounts were removed for engaging in “inauthentic behaviour”, carrying seemingly independent news and opinion pages to “covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military”.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was not blocking UN action but it did not believe sanctions or criticism would help resolve the Rohingya crisis.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China can veto any decision to bring the generals before the International Criminal Court. It has been reticent about condemning its Burmese military allies during the crisis.
China is hoping to develop a special economic zone and a deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu in Rakhine State and would not want to jeopardise the multimillion-dollar development.
Hua said the Rohingya crisis had complex historical, religious and ethnic roots and China wished to play a “constructive role” in finding a solution.
Monks and selfies: Myanmar’s young population is enthusiastic in its use of social media. Picture credit: Asean Economist