Myanmar’s new military government has blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms on Thursday in a move to halt the dissent that has swept across the country following the military coup on Monday. The Ministry of Communications and Transport of Myanmar has announced that the restrictions would not be lifted until February 7.
“Currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability … are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook,” the Ministry said in a letter.
Facebook is being used by about half of Myanmar’s population, and the usage has only grown to become a crucial source of communication and a platform to air their dissent regarding the ousting of the elected civilian government and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photos of civil disobedience campaigns and nightly pot-and-pan protests were widely shared on the platform.
Internet users revealed that the disruption began late Wednesday night, and users were unable to access Facebook on their phones, laptops, or PCs. Mobile service provider Telenor Myanmar confirmed said that mobile operators and internet service providers in Myanmar had received a directive from the communications ministry to temporarily block Facebook. Telenor said that it agreed to comply, even though it was concerned that the order was a blatant breach of human rights.
NetBlocks, which monitors online services worldwide, said restrictions on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp by the state-owned Internet provider MPT had spread to other providers. “Facebook products are now restricted on multiple internet providers in #Myanmar as operators comply with an apparent blocking order,” Netblocks wrote on Twitter.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, confirmed that it was aware of the disruption. “Telecom providers in Myanmar have been ordered to temporarily block Facebook. We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information,” said a Facebook spokesperson. Facebook designated Myanmar as a “Temporary High-Risk Location” for two weeks.
This move to restrict access to Facebook and quell the voices of dissent comes after the police had filed charges against former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed on house arrest since Monday, for illegally importing walkie-talkies. The charge would allow her to legally be kept in custody until at least Feb. 15.
The protests that rocked Myanmar included medical personnel, who have declared they won’t work for the military government. Yangon residents engaged in noise protests on Wednesday, with people banging pots and pans and honking car horns under cover of darkness. Myanmar has had a long relationship with bloodshed and coups since its independence, and Suu Kyi was the first leader in its history to have ruled for five years with a democratic government.