Facebook Takes More Action Against Myanmar Military After $150B Lawsuit Filed By Refugees

A day after a $150 billion lawsuit was filed against Facebook's parent company Meta for allegations of ignoring previous violence against Muslims in Myanmar, it announced an expansion to previous bans, now set to include all pages, groups and accounts that represent a military-controlled business.

Previously, the company banned official military accounts from Facebook and Instagram, as well as military-controlled state media and stopped those companies from advertising on the platforms.

The lawsuit, filed in California Tuesday, said the company failed to stop hateful posts that promoted violence against the minority of Rohingya Muslims in the country in 2017, which allegedly led to the killing of thousands.

In February, the military seized control from Aung San Suu Kyi, the previous elected leader of the country, and reportedly have been using excessive, often lethal force to stop protests against the military's control.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says over 1,600 civilians have been killed in the protests.

In 2017, the military allegedly conducted a campaign in the western state of Rakhine, forcing over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to attempt to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, a campaign which allegedly involved mass killings, rape and destruction of villages that amounted to ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Activists said the military used internet platforms like Facebook to spread propaganda and hate speech against the Muslim community, and previous bans from Facebook didn't go far enough in stopping the hate speech that led to violence.

"The belated decision to remove military company pages appears more an act of desperation after being sued for $150 billion for being involved in Rohingya genocide than any genuine concern for human rights," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, a group which has advocated for Facebook to take further action, in a statement.

Facebook, Myanmar Military Coup, Ban
Facebook’s parent company Meta announced Wednesday that it has expanded its ban on postings linked to Myanmar’s military to include all pages, groups, and accounts representing military-controlled businesses. It had already banned advertising from such businesses in February. Above, Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square March 29, 2018. Richard Drew/Associated Press File

The army is known in Myanmar as the Tatmadaw.

The army also has been accused of abuses against villagers as it fights members of pro-democracy militias in the countryside.

In April, Facebook announced it was "implementing a specific policy for Myanmar to remove praise, support and advocacy of violence by Myanmar security forces and protestors from our platform."

The group Burma Campaign UK, which had sought to get Facebook to do more to curb the military's reach through its platforms, welcomed the move but noted that Facebook had resisted taking down military companies' pages.

Wednesday's statement from Rafael Frankel, Asia-Pacific director of policy for Meta, said the company was taking 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 military controls major portions of Myanmar's economy, largely through two big holding companies. Because corporate links are not always clear, Meta said it is using a report compiled by U.N, investigators in 2019 to identify relevant firms.

In response to the abuses committed against the Rohingya, Facebook in 2018 banned 20 military-linked individuals and organizations including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who now leads the army-installed government. From 2018 to 2010, Facebook removed six networks of accounts controlled by the military, which did not acknowledge the backing.

This year, Facebook disabled pages belonging to state media that violated Facebook rules about promoting violence and harm to others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Myanmar, Facebook, Military Coup, Account Ban
Protesters hold banners as they take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, December 5, 2021. Facebook announced a ban Wednesday on all pages, groups and accounts related to businesses controlled by Myanmar's military a day after being sued for $150 billion over alleged past ignorance to hate speech and propaganda in the country produced by the military, and directed at Muslims in the country. STR/AFP via Getty Images