Amidst the ongoing unrest in Myanmar following the coup, the now ruling military has blocked access to Wikipedia and imposed overnight internet service blackouts. In a reversal of roles, Facebook has blocked Myanmar military’s page.
Shortly after the 1 February coup, people in many parts of the country started reporting internet and cellular outages. A day later, the military junta ordered telecommunication companies to block people’s access to Facebook and its related services. The junta claimed that Facebook, and related services WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, contributed to instability in the country.
However, in the weeks following the coup, internet censorship in Myanmar has widened. Netblocks, a traffic monitoring service, reported on Twitter late on Friday that the military junta had blocked access to Wikipedia. “Confirmed: #Myanmar has blocked all language editions of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia,” it said. Also blocked are related sites such as Wikidata and Wikimedia.
Internet Service Blackouts
Furthermore, Netblocks reports that there have been internet service blackouts in Myanmar for over a week now. These blackouts have thus far run for 8 consecutive nights, possibly to disrupt planned protests calling for the release of the democratically elected leaders. The blackouts begin at 1 am and end at 9 am every morning.
According to Netblocks, “Real-time network data show connectivity down to just 13% of ordinary levels as of 1 am local time.” It goes on to state that, while connectivity is restored at 9 am, “online platforms remain filtered with indications that mobile data restrictions are now in place #Yangon.” Thus further widening Myanmar’s internet censorship. Yangon was previously known as Rangoon.
“The regime of shutdowns and filters has produced an information vacuum that now severely limits news coverage and reporting of human rights violations,” Netblocks tweeted. It has also adversely affected Myanmar’s online shops, with owners reporting that sales have halved in the last week. Furthermore, the political unrest has turned business away from digital platforms.
Facebook Blocks Myanmar Military’s Page
In their turn, Facebook took down the Myanmar military’s main page on Sunday. The page was called Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page. Facebook blocked the page due to “repeated violations of community standards that prohibit incitement to violence and coordinating harm,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.
After coming under heavy criticism from the international community in the past, Facebook has been more actively containing hate speech on its platforms. For example, before Myanmar’s November elections, Facebook announced it had removed more than 70 pages. These pages were operated by members of the military and contained positive posts about the military. Other pages criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi and her party were also taken down.
Myanmar’s Latest Military Coup
Military coups are not uncommon in Myanmar, with the military having ruled the country for decades in the past. Furthermore, although Myanmar was moving towards democracy, the military retained 25% of the seats in parliament, as per the constitution. However, ahead of the November 2020 elections, the then State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi promised to amend the constitution. She stated that if she were re-elected, she would substantially reduce military representation in the parliament going forward.
Suu Kyi’s party enjoyed a landslide victory, capturing 396 of the 476 seats that are not reserved for the military. The election was certified as fair by international observers. However, the military were worried that Aung San Suu Kyi would keep her election promise. A promise that the military now no longer had the numbers to stop.
Consequently, the military detained the democratically elected members of Parliament on the eve of their swearing in. And placed them under house arrest. The military then accused the government of rigging the elections as justification for the leaders’ detainment.
The coup triggered mass protests across the country, which the military is attempting to contain by using violence. According to reports, two protestors were killed on Saturday after security forces opened fire to disperse the protestors.