TikTok is repeating Facebook’s mistakes in Myanmar

The social media giant failed to anticipate a predictable surge in misinformation and threats of violence. (With Emily Fishbein and Nu Nu Lusan)

The soldier looks barely out of his teens, in military fatigues and with his assault rifle on his lap. He holds his magazine up to the camera, showing the live rounds inside it. “You are going to demonstrate today? You can demonstrate peacefully,” he says. “If you cross the line and throw a stone or use a slingshot … these are real bullets. We will shoot you.”

The video, posted to TikTok on March 3, was liked more than 15,000 times before it was taken down five days later. It is one of hundreds of videos government soldiers in Myanmar have posted to the app since the military seized power in a coup d’état on February 1. Some of the clips are straightforward propaganda, employed to build sympathy for security forces and justify their brutality. Some are misinformation, used to divide and confuse anti-coup protesters. Others are outright threats: soldiers and police brandishing guns and ammunition, warning demonstrators that they are prepared to use them. 

Many of the videos have been removed since early March, after TikTok swung belatedly into action following reports by Vice World News and Reuters of the surge in hate speech and threats of violence on the platform. Activists say that, although TikTok is now starting to clean house, its approach to enforcing its own community standards has been slow and inconsistent, and new videos of this type are posted to the platform daily. In a statement to Rest of World, the company acknowledged that it had not taken a proactive approach in stopping the spread of potentially incendiary content. 

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