Sen. Markey Slams Facebook's Zuckerberg Over Burma Bans

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) had more than one bone to pick with Facebook this week, writing CEO Mark Zuckerberg Friday (Feb. 22) seeking an explanation of Burmese groups it had banned from its platform, which came after he had called for an FTC investigation into complaints about Facebook in-app purchases.

Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asking Zuckerberg to explain why Facebook had banned four "ethnic armed groups"-–the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)."

He said that those groups involved with the attempt to bring peace to that country. Markey acknowledged Facebook's efforts to combat online hate speech in Burma that has led to atrocities in the conflict, but that this ban "risks undermining efforts to promote ethnic reconciliation."

That is because, says Markey, "[b]anning the pages of these armed groups, which rely predominantly on Facebook to communicate with outside audiences, would cut off their external communications. It would prevent these groups from engaging with ethnic civil society, government negotiators, international observers (including the United States) facilitating the peace process, and international humanitarian groups accessing areas under their control, isolating them from any national reconciliation efforts.”

He also says that Facebook's "unclear" explanation of the ban "opens the door to serious misinterpretation" of its hate speech policy.

Markey wants that cleared up with answers to a bunch of questions (by March 1), including why those groups and not the Burmese military or government or other armed ethnic groups were banned and who made the ultimate decision to ban the groups.

The letter is an example of the competing pressures on social media platforms in Washington both to become more involved in content calls and not to censor or micromanage speech.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.