Russian 'Facebook' bans Myanmar army chief, hardline monk

By AFP

YANGON — Russian social media site VKontakte (VK) has followed Facebook by banning Myanmar’s army chief and a nationalist monk known for stirring up Islamophobia in a country condemned globally for the treatment of its Rohingya Muslims.

Facebook blacklisted Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other top military brass three weeks ago after a damning report by UN investigators called for their prosecution for genocide over the army’s brutal crackdown on the Rohingya.

The military head immediately opened up an account on VK, which has a very similar blue and white interface to its Silicon Valley counterpart but is hosted by Myanmar’s staunch ally Russia.

He quickly amassed some 37,000 followers but users Monday were greeted with a message that the account had been suspended “due to a violation of the VK terms of service”.

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VK told AFP that the accounts of Min Aung Hlaing and hardline abbot Wirathu had been “blocked permanently after receiving many complaints from users”, adding that it had hired Burmese-speaking moderators to monitor posts.

Wirathu is an influential monk known for his hatred of Islam and the Rohingya in particular. Facebook disabled his account in January after a string of vitriol targeting the stateless minority.

Last year’s army campaign, which followed attacks on police posts, forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into Bangladesh, with refugees bringing testimony of widespread murder, rape and arson.

Only a hardcore of military supporters appear to have made the switch to VK from Facebook in the Buddhist-majority country, which only came online recently after half a century of military rule.

Facebook still reigns supreme although it has scrambled in recent months to show it is taking hate speech seriously after coming under fire for its slow response to  incendiary posts.

The UN envoy to Myanmar lambasted the world’s biggest social network earlier this year, even saying it had morphed into a “beast”.

The tech giant, which boasts some 18 million accounts in the country of 51 million people, has admitted it has often been too slow to take down inflammatory posts.

The army chief, who had two Facebook accounts with 1.3 and 2.8 million followers respectively, often used the site to drum up support for the military campaign.

Posts would frequently refer to the Rohingya as “Bengali” to imply they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and feature denials of atrocities during the crackdown.

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