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The world watched in horror as Myanmar’s military forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, seized control of the democratic nation on February 1st. Since then, they have incited violence, conducted mass arrests, and inhibited citizens’ access to online communication. As the situation in Myanmar continues to escalate, social media platforms have banded together to disrupt the Tatmadaw’s lines of communication with the public.
Facebook was the first to restrict the Myanmar militia’s accounts due to their spread of misinformation, letting the world know that it is treating the situation in the South Asian nation as an emergency.
“We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” said Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of policy for APAC Emerging Countries.
Youtube is another platform that has recently removed content from the militia. The online streaming platform, owned by the same company that owns Google, took down five accounts associated with the junta from its television service. The blocked channels include the Myanmar Radio and Television and the military-owned Myawaddy Media, both of which broadcast military propaganda and martial anthems.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.
The American company did not specify which guidelines the channels had breached, though amid rising global pressure for sanctions against the Myanmar junta, it is unlikely that any regulatory body will challenge the decision.
Citizens of Myanmar have held many peaceful demonstrations in the wake of the coup, pleading for the return of their coveted democratic government. Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been rife with struggles against military dictatorships for nearly half a century. It held its first democratic election in 2008, and appointed its first elected president in 2010. Barely a decade later, the Tatmadaw have regained control, and outbreaks of violence have ensued in response to the citizens’ protests.
The situation in Myanmar continues to escalate, with an estimated 54 people killed by the militia so far; though, many speculate that this number, officially released by the United Nations, falls short of the true number of lives lost in the struggle.
TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance (not affiliated with Byte News), has also announced its efforts to terminate Myanmar’s digital foothold. Countless videos containing menacing threats from the junta have been removed so far, but TikTok is struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of the malicious content.
One of such videos reviewed by Reuters in late February depicted a man in army getup, addressing protesters with an assault rifle aimed at the camera: “I will shoot in your f*cking faces… and I’m using real bullets.” TikTok has since removed the video from its platform.
TikTok said in a statement: “We have clear Community Guidelines that state we do not allow content that incites violence or misinformation that causes harm… As it relates to Myanmar, we have been and continue to promptly remove all content that incites violence or spreads misinformation, and are aggressively monitoring to remove any such content that violates our guidelines.”
As the cries for sanctions against the Tatmadaw all over the world have grown louder, it seems as if global online platforms have begun to issue sanctions of their own.
Former President Trump Sues Twitter, Facebook, and More
Former president Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he is suing Twitter, Facebook, Google, and their CEOs Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai, alleging that the social media juggernauts violated Trump’s First Amendment rights when they all banned him from their services. The 45th president has been barred from using Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s Youtube for months now after a mass of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6th.
The suits against these tech giants are requesting that Trump be reinstated on all platforms. Currently, his only chance at returning to any of these sites lies with Facebook, which recently said Trump was banned until at least January 2023, although he may be allowed to return after that.
The suits also demand that the court decide section 230 of the Communications Decency Act be ruled unconstitutional. Trump has long railed against section 230, which prohibits technology companies from being held liable by what users on their platforms post.
“We’re not looking to settle,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in front of his gold club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we’re not looking to settle,”
Already there are many analysts saying the lawsuits will likely not be held up in a court of law. The claim that Trump’s First Amendment rights were violated will have a hard time passing muster with a judge because Facebook, Twitter, and Google are all private entities and not government institutions, therefore they are free to make choices related to speech that don’t violate constitutional rights. Still, it is one of Trump’s largest moves against Big Tech, a group he has been fighting since before leaving office. Following his ban from the platforms, Trump’s opinion on the companies only lowered and his drive against them increased.
Immediately after announcing the lawsuits, Trump’s political action committees began sending out fundraising emails asking for money to help fund the lawsuits.
Facebook, Google, And More Pressure SEC to Require Business Climate Reports
Seven of the biggest technology companies in the world are urging the federal government to hold them accountable about climate change.
Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google parent company Alphabet, and more sent a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler on Friday, asking that the SEC require businesses to regularly reveal issues related to climate change to shareholders and the public.
The coalition’s letter stated that the companies “believe that climate disclosures are critical to ensure that companies follow through on stated climate commitments and to track collective progress towards addressing global warming and building a prosperous, resilient zero-carbon economy.” It marks one of the most high-profile attempts by big tech to spur more self-responsibility and involvement from their sector and follows other instances of the industry being vocal about the need to address climate change.
Perhaps the biggest request in the letter is regarding greenhouse gases. The companies claim that the SEC should require businesses to report on these gas emissions in an annual report that provides transparency to anyone involved in the company and any potential customers as well.
Additionally, the group of businesses stated that they have purchased 21 gigawatts of clean energy in their quest for a fully renewable economy.
The letter doesn’t come as a major surprise, since many major tech companies have long been adamant about fighting climate change. However, even the most vocal companies have been criticized for their lack of tangible action. Recently, some of these companies – such as Amazon – have put forth plans to show how serious they are about tackling the pressing issue. Jeff Bezos launched the “Climate Pledge” in September 2019, which included plans for Amazon to use 80% renewable energy by 2024 before transitioning to complete zero emissions by the year 2030.
Google Confirms Deal with U.S. Based Hospital Chain to Develop Algorithms.
Alphabet Inc’s Google, and U.S. based national healthcare chain HCA Healthcare Inc, have struck a deal for the development of healthcare based algorithms using patient and doctors records. This is the latest foray of the tech-giant Google into the $3 trillion valued healthcare sector.
HCA Healthcare, based out of Nashville, Tennessee operates more than 2,000 locations spread out across 21 states, will begin to consolidate and store data from digital health records with Google under the new multi-year agreement. Engineers from both companies will collaborate together in developing algorithms that are aimed at improving overall efficiency, monitoring patients, and helping doctors guide their decisions.
The recent shift in the healthcare industry towards digital records has created a deluge of data and a new market that both startups and technology giants are eager to capitalize on. By developing algorithms and crunching data related to the healthcare industry, engineers are excited by the possibilities of developing new treatments and improving patient safety. But, algorithm developing deals have also raised concerns amongst healthcare privacy advocates.
Google has previously made in-roads with other U.S. based healthcare companies, including Missouri based Ascension. The deal with Ascension granted Google access to personal patient medical records, drawing scrutiny from members of the U.S. Congress, who believed that Google’s deal with Ascension, dubbed ‘Project Nightingale’ ran afoul of federal regulations.
HCA has stated that Google will not be permitted to use patient-identifiable information under the deal reached this week. While terms of the deal have not yet been made public, HCA claimed that all patient-identifiable data will be stripped of personal information before being sent to Google’s engineers and data scientists. According to HCA, the hospital system will retain full control over all medical data processed.
Under the terms of the deal that have been made available to the public, Google will be able to access healthcare data only with consent from HCA first, but Google will be permitted to develop analytic tools without patient data that can then be tested by HCA using patient-identifiable data.
Personal medical information is typically protected under the federal health privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA. HIPAA allows for hospitals and a limited number of healthcare companies, mainly insurance companies, to share medical data with contractors, which under law are required to maintain the same privacy standards that hospitals must abide by. Some lawmakers however, have expressed concern that HIPAA is outdated and was unable to keep up with the pace of technology, and with the boom of tech companies entering the healthcare industry, many lawmakers look to expand scrutiny and federal regulations in order to update HIPAA.
The multi-year deal between HCA and Google aims to develop algorithms using data from more than 32 million annual patient visits. This information could help monitor patients and guide their treatments, something that has become increasingly important since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. During the peak of the pandemic, HCA was using it’s own analytic information to guide patient treatment for COVID-19 and found that when using analytics, COVID-19 related intensive care unit patients had overall higher chances of survival.
HCA also expressed a desire for the deal to help simplify operating procedures, such as digitizing the tracking of critically important inventory for hospitals.