UN says Facebook had role in spread of Rohingya hate speech

By Prarthana Mitra

The United Nations on Monday strongly condemned Facebook for its role in the spread of communal hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Facebook has long been criticised for providing the space for hateful sentiments to grow, but this assessment has now been underscored by UN representatives in the light of new evidence.

Facebook’s unwitting involvement in a genocide

Over 65,000 Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since last August following a security crackdown that reportedly resulted in thousands of brutal murders, rapes and the deprival of basic human rights, and which the UN special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee has said bear the “hallmarks of genocide”. UN human rights chief Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein has also called on Myanmar to allow investigators into restricted areas to probe what he referred to as “suspected acts of genocide”.

A vehicle for acrimony

According to Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, social media played a “determining role” in Myanmar. “It (social media) has…substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” he said.

Lee said Facebook was a big part of public, civil and private life in Myanmar, and is used by the government to share information, but has now “turned into a beast”. Ultra-nationalist and Buddhist groups have used Facebook in their crusades against the Rohingya, spreading hate speech and inciting communal violence, the UN officials said.

Insufficient action

The Mark Zuckerberg-led social network has said in the past that it removes anyone who consistently shares hate speech and other such content. Facebook’s security measures have a clause in place to remove accounts, temporarily suspend or ban anyone that “consistently shares content promoting hate”.

In a comment to Mashable, Facebook said that the company rules against hate speech and incitement of violence, and was working to remove such content from the platform.

“In Myanmar, we introduced localized, translated versions of our Community Standards and have a dedicated safety Page, which we work with our partners to promote. We also created Panzagar stickers to help promote positive speech online.”

To keep anti-Muslim rhetoric off its newsfeed, Facebook had banned hard-line nationalist monk Wirathu, for a year, which ended over the weekend.

However, the UN clearly believes these measures are insufficient to keep a check on all hate speech on the social network. Facebook was once “used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” Lee said.

Facebook finds itself under the UN scanner for its role, albeit inadvertent, in what could soon be established as a genocide.