A Day After Rohingya Refugees Sued Facebook for $150B, the Company Announced Some Changes

Meta, Facebook’s parent, announced Wednesday that it had expanded its ban against postings linked to Myanmar’s army to all pages, accounts, and groups. It had previously banned advertising from such entities in February.

Following the military’s takeover of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the February actions also banned military and military-controlled state and media entities via Facebook and Instagram.

This action comes just one day after a high-profile lawsuit was filed in California by Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook. The case sought more than $150 billion for its alleged failures in stopping hateful posts that incited violence towards the Muslim Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military and its support.

The Tatmadaw was a Myanmar army known for its brutal counterinsurgency campaign within Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. It drove more than 700,000. Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh to escape danger. Critics believe the campaign, which included mass murders, rape, and arson, was an act of ethnic cleansing, possibly even genocide.

Since February’s overthrow, security forces have used lethal force against peaceful protests of military rule. According to an extensive tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 1,600 civilians have been murdered by security forces. The army was also accused of committing abuses against the villagers in its fight with pro-democracy militias.

Activists allege that the military uses the internet as a tool to spread hate speech and disinformation. Facebook announced that it had “implemented a specific policy to Myanmar” in April. This policy would remove praise, support, and advocacy for violence by Myanmar security forces or protestors from its platform.

Burma Campaign U.K. had tried to get Facebook to limit the military’s reach through their platforms. They welcomed the move but observed that Facebook had not taken down the pages of military companies.

Mark Farmaner from Burma Campaign U.K. stated that “the belated decision to remove military company pages seems more an act in desperation after being sued by $150 billion for being implicated in the Rohingya massacre than any genuine concern to human rights.”

Meta Asia-Pacific director for policy Rafael Frankel said Wednesday that Meta was taking action “based on extensive documentation by the international community regarding these businesses’ direct roles in funding Tatmadaw violence and human rights abuses.

Two large holding companies are the main conduits through which the military controls large parts of Myanmar’s economic sector. Meta claimed it would use a 2019 U.N. report to identify relevant firms, as corporate links can be challenging to establish.

Facebook removed 20 military-linked individuals from its platform in 2018 due to the Rohingya abuses. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is the current leader of the army-installed state government. Facebook deleted six networks controlled by military accounts between 2018 and 2010, which didn’t acknowledge their backing.