In order to "prevent the spread of hate and misinformation," social media giant Facebook blocked the commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing, from using its platform. Dozens of other Facebook accounts and pages, including those belonging to other military officials and the military's Myawady television network, were also been removed on Monday.
The unprecedented move comes as Myanmar's military faces growing pressure over its crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya.
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"International experts … have found evidence that many of these individuals and organizations committed or enabled serious human rights abuses in the country," Facebook said in an online post. "And we want to prevent them from using our service to further inflame ethnic and religious tensions."
Responding to the ban, government spokesman Zaw Htay said Myanmar was asking Facebook for more information.
"Community standards must be balanced," he told local media. "The government would like to know the exact reason."
Facebook slammed by the UN
Earlier on Monday, a UN panel slammed the Myanmar's army leadership for alleged crimes committed in the country Rakhine state, saying that the soldiers committed mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with "genocidal intent." The UN experts said army chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals should face trial.
At the same time, the fact-finding mission also called out Facebook, saying it was "a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate."
Facebook is a key channel of communication in Myanmar, the country still adapting to the rapid spread of smartphones and social media. For most users in the Asian country "Facebook is the Internet," the UN experts said.
Read more: Inciting hatred against Rohingya on social media
They also criticized the platform for being "slow and ineffective" in responding to hate speech.
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Nearly 12 million people followed the deleted pages and accounts, which also included a profile on Instagram. The picture-sharing platform is also owned by Facebook.
The Monday ban marks the first time the network had blocked a country's military or political leaders, according to Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja. She described the move as "unique" but added her company would continue to "take action when we have enough facts to do so."
Budhraja also said the bans could not be appealed.
dj/bw (Reuters, AFP)