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Facebook admits platform used to incite hate attacks in Myanmar

WT24 Desk

A report commissioned by Facebook Inc. it found its platforms were used to incite violence in Myanmar, helping organized groups to conduct sectarian attacks on the country’s Rohingya Muslim population, Bloomberg reports.

The report by Business for Social Responsibility, an independent non-profit organisation with expertise in human rights practices and policies, found that Facebook is being used to spread hate speech and coordinate harmful acts in Myanmar, whose military has led a campaign of violence against Rohingya.

“We agree that we can and should do more,” Facebook public policy manager Alex Warofka said in a statement published on the company’s website. “We know we need to do more to ensure we are a force for good in Myanmar.”

By mid-2018 Myanmar boasted some 20 million Facebook users — from a total population of up to 55 million — the report said, generating substantial user engagement compared to competing social media platforms. It is often said that “Facebook is the internet” in Myanmar.

“There are deep-rooted and pervasive cultural beliefs in Myanmar that reinforce discrimination and which result in interfaith and communal conflict,” the report said. Facebook “is being used to spread these opinions on an individual basis, as well as by organized groups for political gain.”

Clamping Down

Governments in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia have moved to clamp down on social media companies, mainly to halt the spread of so-called “fake news.” Singapore has also signalled it is likely to adopt laws empowering its government to disrupt the spread of misinformation.

Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy, Myanmar began a transition from five decades of military rule to democracy with its first democratically-elected government in March 2016. But since last year, the country has been widely condemned as nearly a million Rohingya refugees fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The United Nations has called for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for committing genocide and war crimes against the Rohingya. It found that Myanmar’s security forces had systematically murdered, tortured, gang-raped and enslaved civilian members of the minority, and set fire to entire communities in violation of international law.

New mobile phone users in Myanmar often buy their phones with Facebook pre-installed, and accounts set up by shop owners without knowledge of their user names and passwords.

To help prevent future misuse of its platforms in the country, the BSR report made recommendations including Facebook’s adoption of a stand-alone human rights policy.

 

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