Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


April 3, 2021

Today I was suspended from posting on Facebook for a week. A month ago it was for three days. The next time, I may be banned from the platform permanently.

I am an Admin of a Facebook group called KNU Watch. It was originally set up, many years ago, to distribute news about the Karen National Union, the political organization for the Karen people of Burma/Myanmar, and which has an associated pro-democracy resistance army, the Karen National Liberation Army.

The group had developed a following, mainly with the Karen, and grown to 8,500 members.

Following the military coup in the country on February 1st, and the beginning of mass protests a week later, it became apparent that this could be the turning point where the people finally rose up and successfully challenged the murderous regime. So we repositioned the group as a general uprising forum, and tried to structure all the news that was coming out into the following categories: The protests; the activities of the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) like the KNLA; the crackdowns and terrorist behavior by the junta, both against the protesters and villagers in ethnic areas and elsewhere; humanitarian efforts to help the victims; and significant international actions.

This had an impact, membership rose to 34,000 (it has been climbing 2,000 a day - many new members are protesters); and we attracted the attention of international journalists for our presentation, which made the situation in the country easier to understand.

A month ago, after the first large slaughter by regime police and soldiers, I made a sharp satirical post, in the voice of a police officer, saying that if the protesters wouldn't stop demonstrating then the police would keep killing them (which they have). Facebook interpreted this incorrectly and assumed that I, personally, was calling for violence. (I wasn't!) Anyone who understands the situation at all would have recognized the satire immediately since the only people killing the protestors are the police and soldiers.

Today, I was blocked for sharing a media article, that at the time of writing had been shared 7,000 times, about a conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA - another EAO) and the Burma Army (the Tatmadaw). I was blocked this time for promoting "dangerous organizations."

I have disputed both of these blocks, including through appealing to Facebook's new Oversight Board for the first.

I understand that Facebook has a difficult time moderating the coverage of a revolution/civil war. But battle news is battle news. And if Facebook says media coverage of a battle is OK, then sharing the link should be OK, too.

It is quite possible that KNU Watch has been infiltrated by regime spies. We have so many membership requests now that we accept everyone, although we personally approve, or reject, all submitted posts. We have become a strong voice and the junta almost certainly wants to shut us down. Did Facebook block me because a pro-regime member - or members - complained? We don't know - Facebook won't say, but it seems the likely explanation (perhaps for both of my bans).

If this is what happened then Facebook is letting junta members or collaborators censor pro-democracy voices.

Facebook failed completely with the Rohingya genocide in 2017, when it allowed regime voices to amplify hate of the Rohingya people of the southwest of the country. While it is true that the company has now removed the pages of the military leaders, it must understand that the platform may still be being used as an opportunistic weapon by the dictatorship.

Facebook is an incredibly valuable tool for positive social movements. I will be back, and will continue to be careful about what I say and post. But I do hope that it can adjust its procedures to address this latest threat to free speech.