photo by: Jeremy Bezanger

Meta and Google must use their powers to stop Myanmar’s alternative propaganda machine

Update: September 21, 2022In an alarming escalation of social media control, and in line with recent amendments to the penal code, the military announced yesterday, September 20,  that people could face  up to 20 years imprisonment for liking and sharing anti-government posts of resistance groups. Social media companies must step up and support the people of Myanmar.

September 20, 2022 — The Myanmar junta’s intensifying control of online spaces must be stopped — Google and Meta must use their powers to intervene. As part of its efforts to dominate and weaponize the internet against people, the military is planning to “ban” Facebook (Meta) and YouTube (Google) across the country. Access to both platforms has already been curtailed, with some people using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to connect — a workaround likely to be penalized under the new censorship measures, and cemented in the disastrous draft cybersecurity law.

As military-run government agencies in Myanmar use Google products, and Meta has international sway, these companies can use their leverage to challenge the ban and the likelihood of the junta penalizing people for accessing blocked sites through other means.

“The Myanmar junta is determined to silence people by stamping out all means of communication and expression,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The military aggressively propagates hate and stifles dissent, while creating communication blackholes that hide its own human rights violations.”

As serious rights violations proliferate offline, Myanmar’s online space is being choked through censorship and targeted internet shutdowns, while expanding CCTV infrastructure with facial recognition powers enables deeper surveillance. At the same time, the junta is developing Mtube to replace YouTube and it continues to promote the OKPar app as a Facebook-alternative. 

“If the military-designed social media platforms gain a foothold in Myanmar, the junta will have absolute control over what gets posted, intensifying digital authoritarianism in the country,” said Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific Campaigner at Access Now. “Google and Meta must join in the collective effort to push back against these authoritarian threats, given their immense financial resources and moral obligation to respect the rights of the people of Myanmar.”

Access Now calls on Google and Meta to invest in technical solutions that will enable people in Myanmar to safely access YouTube and Facebook. Google and Apple must take down the OKPar app from their stores, and commit to not hosting MTube once rolled out.

Companies have the responsibility to respect human rights and cannot allow their products and services to be used as part of the junta’s propaganda infrastructure. Big Tech must explore all means possible to protect the privacy and security of the millions of customers in Myanmar who trust and rely on them as the only outlet to freely exercise their fundamental rights.