How Facebook Is Helping Spread Hate Speech In The Rohingya Crisis

Yolanda Curtis
March 13, 2018

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters that Facebook in particular had played a "determining role" in Myanmar.

Speaking at the UN's human rights council in Geneva, Yanghee Lee, the global organisation's chief monitor on Burma, said that the near-monopoly enjoyed by the social media site within the country allows it to be used to persecute the Rohingya.

A United Nations human rights envoy said last week that Myanmar is continuing its "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya with a "campaign of terror and forced starvation" in Rakhine state, six months after a military crackdown sparked a mass exodus of the Muslim minority.

Investigators also found that a certain social-media platform - it rhymes with lace hook - had a hand in helping spread hate speech in Myanmar and fuel unrest.

In Myanmar, which is still effectively controlled by the military, Facebook is so prevalent that it essentially functions as the entire internet, and is the main source of information for citizens (a local digital marketing agency puts the share of the population on Facebook at about 20%).

He adds that it has "substantially contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict". This content goes viral, normalizing hate speech and shaping public perception.

Lee adds that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists also have their own Facebook accounts which incite "a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities".

Over 671,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority have fled Myanmar's western Rakhine state for neighboring Bangladesh since August 25, many bearing tales of atrocities committed by Myanmar's military, including executions, gang rapes, and the razing of homes and villages.

"I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast", Lee told reporters. So far, it's estimated that 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh as a result.

The South Korean academic, who has been barred from visiting Myanmar, called for a UN-backed investigation based in Bangladesh.

"We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns", the spokesperson said.

"There is a blurred line between freedom of speech and hate crime", said Lennon Chang, a lecturer in criminology in Monash University.

"We work with local communities and NGOs to increase awareness of our policies and reporting process, and are always looking for ways to improve people's experience on Facebook", the spokesperson said.

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