YANGON, Myanmar – Facebook has removed hundreds of pages and accounts in Myanmar with hidden links to the military, the platform said Wednesday, as the company scrambles to respond to criticism over failures to control hate speech and misinformation.
The social media giant – Myanmar’s most popular and influential site – has been lambasted for years for its ineffective response to malicious posts, particularly against the country’s Rohingya Muslims.
The problem reached new levels of urgency last year as Myanmar’s military drove more than 720,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, while dehumanizing material about the stateless group spread on the site.
Facebook said Wednesday some 425 pages, 17 groups, 135 accounts and 15 Instagram accounts had been removed, which were posing as independent news, entertainment, beauty and lifestyle pages but in reality had links to the military or to pages previously removed.
This is Facebook’s third sweeping takedown of pages and accounts for what it calls ” coordinated inauthentic behavior” in Myanmar following deletions in October and August.
Hardline nationalist monks and even the army’s top generals, accused by UN investigators of genocide, are among the users Facebook blacklisted this year.
Facebook said in a newsroom post that it does not want people or organizations “creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” adding that one page had 2.5 million followers.
Some of the deleted pages were called “Down for Anything”, “Let’s Laugh Casually”, and “We Love Myanmar”.
Facebook has been trying to repair its battered reputation, improving the speed with which hate speech is taken down and vowing to beef up its Myanmar-language reviewers on staff to 100 by the end of 2018.
But critics say this is not enough to oversee some 20 million Facebook accounts in the country, many in a patchwork of regional languages.
An independent report commissioned by Facebook concluded last month that the state was ultimately responsible for rights abuses, but the company should have done more to prevent the platform from being used to forment division and incite offline violence.
It also warned that Myanmar’s 2020 election will likely be a flashpoint for abuse and misinformation.
Most people in Myanmar only came online in the last few years, when smartphone usage soared as the country opened up to the outside world after decades of isolated military rule.
Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government – which is in an uneasy power-sharing agreement with the military – has come under fire for not doing more to stand up for the Rohingya. – Rappler.com