Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications demanded this weekend that networks block access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amid an ongoing military coup in the nation’s Capital of Yangon.
Several network tracking services have confirmed that access to such networks has been shut down around the country, and social media companies like Twitter have expressed concern for the move. Telenor, a Nordic network that also provides service in Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, revealed on Friday that it received direction to block service to the social media networks amid a period of ongoing political uprising. The company also revealed that it was directed to block access to Facebook before receiving additional direction to block sites like Twitter and Instagram, which were being used to spread global awareness of what is happening on the ground in Myanmar amid the turmoil.
“While the directive has legal basis in Myanmar’s telecommunications law, Telenor Myanmar has challenged the necessity and proportionality of the directive in its response to MoTC, and highlighted the directive’s contradiction with international human rights law,” read a statement on the Telenor website. “Telenor Group is gravely concerned with this development in Myanmar, and emphasises that freedom of expression through access to communication services should be maintained at all times, especially during times of conflict,” the statement continued.
Tensions began to rise in late January when the Burmese military detained Aung San Suu Kyi after opposing her election win, effectively taking power in a military coup. The Burmese military and the government that controls it have been colliding for some time, though they got definitively worse amid the democratic election, where officials within the military (also called the Tatmadaw) alleged that the democratic election was invalid.
Aung San Suu Kyi was tried in international court in 2019 for failing to control the Tatmadaw, which was allegedly committing genocide against the Rohingya people in the country’s Rhakine state, located in western Myanmar just west of the country’s capital Naypyitaw. Critics blasted San Suu Kyi for failing to condemn the military and its alleged actions in Rhakine, a genocide fueled by online disinformation and the political weaponization of information.
Facebook in 2018 took responsibility for its complacency in the Rohingya genocide, and admitted that its relaxed political policy at the time fueled the spread of harmful viral disinformation. The company has since become a target for moderation discourse, and the complicated issues in Myanmar continue to highlight that globalized social media companies have a huge responsibility in understanding the nuances and coded language that comes with political social media propaganda.
However, Myanmar’s decision to block social media in the country shows a clear aim to prevent its people from speaking up about what is happening. Both Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram, have called the situation concerning.