Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communication (MoTC) on Wednesday directed telecom companies to temporarily block access to popular social media service Facebook in the country in order to ensure “stability” and prevent misunderstanding amongst the citizens from the “spreading [of] fake news and misinformation” after the junta’s coup d’état earlier this week.
Along with Facebook, access to associated products by Facebook, Inc. such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger are also being restricted. On Friday, network monitoring group NetBlocks affirmed that Twitter was also being blocked and the same was confirmed by multiple users on Reddit.
According to NetBlocks’ data on global internet usage, widespread internet disruptions had begun on the night before the coup, with cuts affecting multiple network operators such as the state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and the Telenor Myanmar, a subsidiary of the international operator Telenor Group based in Norway. Although internet services gradually restored within a day, with Telenor reporting full functionality on February 2, restrictions on popular social media platforms continued.
With respect to the Facebook ban, Telenor has released a statement confirming that its subsidiary Telenor Myanmar has complied with the legal directive although the company “does not believe that the request is based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law.”
Facebook is widely used by citizens and governmental bodies alike for sharing information and news in Myanmar. After Facebook drew criticism for failing to moderate hate speech and misinformation during the Rohingya genocide in 2018, it banned several military accounts and emerged as a strong platform for dissent against the junta. The military’s television network Myawaddy TV was de-platformed in 2018 and has been banned by Facebook again following the coup on Monday.
The ban is expected to continue until midnight on Sunday. Many are reported to be using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass the social media restrictions, and demand for VPN is said to have increased by 6,700 percent. Meanwhile, Facebook has urged the authorities “to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information”.