Facebook Parent Company Meta Bans Burma Military-Linked Businesses From Platform

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
December 8, 2021 Updated: December 8, 2021

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has announced that it has expanded its earlier ban on posts linked to the military of Burma, also known as Myanmar, to include all pages, groups, and accounts representing military-controlled businesses.

Rafael Frankel, Asia-Pacific director of policy for Meta, said in a blog post on Dec. 8 that the company was taking the action “based on extensive documentation by the international community of these businesses’ direct role in funding the Tatmadaw’s ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Myanmar.” The term “Tatmadaw” refers to the Burmese military.

Frankel noted that Burma’s military has “far-reaching commercial interests [that] are not always possible to definitively determine,” so the social media company is relying on the findings of a 2019 U.N. fact-finding mission to calibrate its expanded ban.

The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has urged the international community to sever ties with Burma’s military and the extensive network of companies that it controls and benefits from.

“The revenue that these military businesses generate strengthens the Tatmadaw’s autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provides financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations,” mission expert Christopher Sidoti said in a statement.

Meta’s February action, which also banned Burma’s military and military-controlled state and media entities from Facebook and Instagram, came in the wake of the army’s coup against the Burmese elected government.

Since taking power in February, Burmese security forces have killed at least 1,305 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which said the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher. The Burmese military has also been accused of abuses against villagers as it fights opposition militias in the countryside.

The AAPP’s running tally of victims (pdf), updated on Dec. 7, describes as its most recent case the death of a 24-year-old civilian farmer, Salai Lal Ro Mawi, who was reportedly detained on Dec. 4 and used as a human shield by the armed wing of the military junta before being burned alive.

The Burmese military is also notorious for a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that took place in Burma’s western state of Rakhine, with critics saying that it involved mass killings, rape, arson, ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide. The U.N. said the military suppression in Rakhine drove more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence.

Rohingya men shortly before they were killed by security forces
Ten Rohingya men with their hands bound kneel as members of Burmese security forces stand guard in Inn Din, Burma, on Sept. 2, 2017. Pictures reportedly later emerged of the same men’s bodies in a shallow grave, having been hacked and shot to death. (File Photo/Reuters)

Meta’s announcement that it was expanding its earlier ban on Burmese military entities comes a day after a high-profile lawsuit was filed in California against Meta seeking more than $150 billion in compensation for the company’s alleged failure to block posts that incited violence against the Rohingya people.

The complaint (pdf), filed on Dec. 6, alleged that Facebook, for years, has “allowed the dissemination of hateful and dangerous misinformation” regarding the Rohingya and that “human rights and civil society groups have collected thousands of examples of Facebook posts likening the Rohingya to animals, calling for Rohingya to be killed, describing the Rohingya as foreign invaders, and falsely accusing Rohingya of heinous crimes.”

Frankel, in an interview with Financial Times, said Meta’s decision to extend the ban was made weeks ago and had “nothing to do” with the lawsuit. In an interview with Reuters, he declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said Meta is “appalled by the crimes committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.”

“We’ve built a dedicated team of Burmese speakers, banned the Tatmadaw, disrupted networks manipulating public debate, and taken action on harmful misinformation to help keep people safe,” he said.

Frankel told Reuters that, to date, Meta has already taken down more than 100 accounts, pages, and groups linked to Burmese military-controlled businesses.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'