Internet service providers in Myanmar including state-owned telecom MPT blocked access to Facebook Inc-owned services in the country on Thursday, days after military leaders seized power in a coup.
A letter published online by the Ministry of Communications and Information overnight said that Facebook would be blocked until February 7 for “stability”.
Some users in Myanmar reported that they could not access multiple Facebook services.
The network monitoring group NetBlocks confirmed to state telecom MPT, which says it has 23 million users, had blocked Facebook as well as its Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services. Norway’s Telenor Asa said it had just blocked Facebook from complying with the directive.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone acknowledged the disturbance.
“We urge the authorities to restore the connection so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and have access to important information,” he said.
Half of Myanmar’s 53 million people use Facebook, which for many is synonymous with the internet.
“Currently, the people who are disturbing the stability of the country … are spreading false news and misinformation and causing misunderstandings among people by using Facebook,” the ministry letter said.
Telenor expressed “serious concern” about the directive, which was said to have been received by all mobile operators and ISPs on Wednesday.
It said in a statement that it is directing users to a message stating that Facebook sites cannot be accessed due to government order.
“Although the Directive has a legal basis in Myanmar’s law, Telenor does not consider the request to be based on necessity and proportionality, in accordance with international human rights law,” it said.
On Tuesday, the military warned against publishing what it said were rumors on social media that could provoke riots and cause instability.
UN human rights investigators have previously said that hate speech on Facebook had played a key role in promoting violence in Myanmar. The company has said it was too slow to act to prevent misinformation and hatred in the country.
This week, Facebook said it was treating the situation in Myanmar as an emergency and taking temporary measures to protect against damage such as removing content that praises or supports the coup, according to a spokeswoman.