Burma Campaign UK today calls on Facebook to immediately ban all Burmese military pages and the pages of military owned companies as “organized violence or criminal activity” under Facebook’s community standards.
The Burmese military stand accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice and are being investigated for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. The military coup on 1st February was illegal even by the standards of the military drafted 2008 Constitution.
“Donald Trump was kicked off Facebook for inciting violence and an attempted coup, but the Burmese military are allowed to stay on Facebook despite committing genocide and holding a coup,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK.
For many years Burma Campaign UK has been raising concerns with Facebook regarding it allowing the military to use Facebook to promote its companies and so raise funds for its criminal activities. Facebook has also failed to take action on requests by Burma Campaign UK that Facebook stop the military using Facebook to recruit soldiers. Facebook is on the Burma Campaign UK ‘Dirty List’ for its refusal to act to stop the military using Facebook to raise funds and recruit members.
The announcement by Facebook last week that it was restricting some military pages actually meant Facebook had decided to keep taking money from military companies, keep letting the military use Facebook to make money, and keep letting the military use Facebook to recruit soldiers.
Facebook is continuing to receive direct profits from Burmese military-owned mobile network Mytel, in breach of Facebook’s human rights obligations. Mytel, a mobile network part-owned by Burmese military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation, continued to run ads on Facebook as of February 8. This is despite overwhelming evidence of the role of Mytel in aiding and abetting the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity documented by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
Unlike the military’s own Facebook Pages, government run Facebook Pages can carry important information for the public, including relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are not calling for all government Pages to be taken down. These pages should be closely monitored for misinformation, hate speech and incitement of violence.
We call for total transparency over Facebook’s revenue from the Burmese military and its business interests and for Facebook to set aside a fund in order to give back all profits received from the revenue of military companies to victims of the military’s atrocity crimes.
Facebook must comply with its human rights obligations and international law obligations under both the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in line with the detailed recommendations of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
“It’s time to kick the Burmese military off Facebook,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Not only is Facebook allowing the military to promote its companies using Facebook Pages, it is even taking money from the military to promote those companies. Facebook have failed to act on our repeated calls for them to stop the military using Facebook to recruit for and fund their criminal activities. It is hard to understand how Facebook can argue that a military dictatorship which committed genocide and just held a coup does not meet their inciting violence and criminal activity criteria for banning them,” said Mark Farmaner.
The military will still have state media and its websites to promote itself and its companies, meaning for example that journalists and others can still monitor their statements and activities. Removing the military from the main internet platform used by people in Burma will be a blow to the military, limiting their ability to easily recruit, raise funds, and spread propaganda.
Facebook is allowing the military on their platform and profiting from military-owned businesses, despite the UN Fact-Finding Mission’s recommendations that international companies should cut all ties with military companies because of the role they play in funding international crimes by the military.
As Facebook does not disclose ad spend from businesses, it is impossible to estimate Facebook’s exact revenue from Mytel. However, in February 2020, Facebook disclosed receiving $1.155 million on ad spend from Mytel for a campaign of inauthentic behaviour where Mytel and Viettel used fake news and consumer accounts to promote their business. It is likely that Mytel’s ad spend is a significant source of Facebook profits in Myanmar. Facebook must disclose details.
In December 2020, Justice For Myanmar released a report showing that Mytel is used by the Myanmar military for military purposes and is integrated into the Signals Directorate of the Myanmar army. Mytel operates in military bases in ethnic areas, transfers dual use technology to the Myanmar military and maintains the military’s network of fibre optic cables. Mytel is also a powerful tool for the military’s mass surveillance, which is of particular concern now as the civil disobedience movement against the military regime spreads across the country.
Mytel is a public-private partnership between Star High of Myanmar Economic Corporation, holding the government’s share, Viettel Global JSC and a consortium of Myanmar crony businesses.
Despite Facebook claiming it was limiting distribution of military pages, Burma Campaign UK staff were still receiving Facebook notifications promoting posts by military pages on the 15th February.
Recent Mytel advertising on Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/ads/library/?active_status=all&ad_type=all&country=MM&view_all_page_id=202618053483457
Ad spending by Mytel: https://about.fb.com/news/2020/02/removing-coordinated-inauthentic-behavior/
For more on the Burmese military’s presence on Facebook, including for recruitment, see: https://burmacampaign.org.uk/facebook-allowing-burma-military-to-recruit-for-and-fund-genocide/.
For details on Mytel and its role in grave human rights violations and systemic corruption, see: https://www.justiceformyanmar.org/stories/nodes-of-corruption-lines-of-abuse-how-mytel-viettel-and-a-global-network-of-businesses-support-the-international-crimes-of-the-myanmar-military