Big Tech Bites Down in Burma
After gaining independence from the British in 1948, the people of Myanmar, aka Burma, lived under military rule from 1962 to 2011, when the armed forces permitted the people to establish and enjoy a type of civilian-military joint government, and the country finally joined the internet. Last month, however, the military brass refused to acknowledge the landslide general election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD). Following the military coup d’etat, American Big Tech companies have taken sides, as both the self-restored military government and the NLD attempt to employ social media.
Anti-military protesters have utilized Facebook and YouTube to plan demonstrations, to circulate memes decrying the generals, and to spread videos of violence by police and military personnel, who have responded by storming telecommunication centers and placing blocks on social media websites, around which resilient civilians have then found hacks through the use of specialized software. In turn, the military has sometimes disabled the internet altogether.
Shortly after the coup, Facebook announced that it was blocking all Burmese military pages and eliminating all advertisements by the military government. Previously, the company had been criticized for enabling them to promote hatred towards the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group against whom they carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign.
Then, at the end of the country’s most violent week of protests, in which security forces escalated the brutality of their methods and thirty people were killed, YouTube announced the cancellation of five Burmese military channels, a decision ostensibly based on the company’s community guidelines, though the announcement included no explanation of exactly how the guidelines had been violated. And it was not Youtube’s first time ever taking action against them. In 2018 the military took 4 and a half million dollars from an emergency fund, and used it for a social media monitoring team under military command. So, during last year’s pre-election campaign season, YouTube canceled two Burmese military channels, and 54 more in the election’s aftermath, citing violations regarding violent content, harassment and hate speech. Perhaps the fact that youTube had already taken such actions in the past is the reason why, unlike Facebook, they didn’t feel the need to ban all Burmese military ads.
Perhaps somewhat similar to Donald Trump’s efforts to circumvent the cancelation of his Twitter account by utilizing other accounts, several new pages have sprung up on Facebook in efforts to replace the military pages that were recently deleted. Hopefully, Facebook will stay on top of that, as did Twitter in the case of Trump.
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