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Facebook bans page linked to Myanmar military TV after coup

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By Elizabeth Culliford

Feb 2 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc said on Tuesday it had removed a page linked to Myanmar's military-owned TV network after a coup this week by the country's military leaders.

U.N. human rights investigators previously said hate speech on Facebook had played a key role in fomenting violence in Myanmar. The platform banned the TV network in 2018.

Facebook is treating the country's situation as an emergency and taking temporary measures to protect against harm such as removing content that praises or supports the coup, according to a spokeswoman.

The military was not immediately available for comment.

Half of Myanmar's 53 million people use Facebook, which for many is synonymous with the internet.

On Tuesday, the military warned against the posting of what it said were rumors on social media that could incite rioting and cause instability, the information ministry said, a day after the army seized power in a coup.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages. Myanmar authorities said they were battling an insurgency and denied carrying out systematic atrocities.

Facebook has said previously it was too slow to act in preventing misinformation and hate in the country.

Myanmar's army on Monday handed power to military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and detained elected leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, saying it had responded to what it called election fraud.

Facebook said it banned 20 Myanmar military individuals and organizations in 2018, including the Myawaddy television network and Min Aung Hlaing. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the takedown of a page linked to the TV network, said the action was taken after the Journal asked Facebook about the page.

A Facebook spokeswoman said it was also removing misinformation that could risk imminent violence or physical harm or that delegitimized the outcome of the November 2020 General Election, including claims of electoral fraud.

"We are closely monitoring political events in Myanmar as they unfold and are taking additional steps to stop misinformation and content that could incite further tensions at this time," said Rafael Frankel, Facebook's director of public policy for Southeast Asia, in a statement.

The spokeswoman said it was using artificial intelligence to restrict the reach of content and comments that likely broke its rules on hate speech or incitement of violence, until a determination is made.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Editing by Howard Goller)