Earlier this week Myanmar suffered a military coup in which the democratically elected National League for Democracy and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, were ousted from government. The new military government now in its place is seeking to limit its citizens ability to interact with the outside world by instructing internet service providers (ISPs) in the country to block access to social media platforms, and Facebook in particular.
This block is said to be in place until 7th February at midnight, but precisely why that specific time and date were given is unclear. Either way, a social media blackout would give the military government to act more nefariously as it seeks to further install itself in the region.
According to NetBlocks, which tracks internet service outages across the globe, Mynamar’s largest ISP, MPT has blocked Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Given that it is state-owned, and the blackout instruction was given by the new military government, it appears as if the instruction is being followed. The same goes for another ISP in the country, Telenor, which also complied with the instruction despite citing, “grave concerns regarding breach of human rights.”
As for how Facebook has responded to being blocked, the company has acknowledged the dangerous precedent that this sets, with an unnamed spokesperson telling TechCrunch that it is, “aware that access to Facebook is currently disrupted for some people.”
That said, it looks like there is little that Facebook can do to stop the instruction from being carried out. “We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information,” the spokesperson added.
Facebook and Myanmar have a recent violent past, with inaction on the part of the social media platform aiding in the inciting of abuse, violence and coordinated attacks in 2018. During those incidents, Facebook noted that it did not do enough. In this case, however, it looks like its hands are tied as democracy is dealt another blow in Myanmar.
Whether any international organisations will step in to assist the people of the country, remains to be seen. In the interim, limiting connectivity and communication with the outside world are clearly where this military government is focusing its attention.