Facebook Posts ‘Substantively Contributed’ to Myanmar Genocide, UN Investigators Say

At a press briefing, United Nations investigators looking into the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar cited social media posts on Facebook as playing a significant role in spreading hate.
March 13, 2018, 4:05pm
Image: Wikipedia

United Nations investigators have blamed Facebook for its role in what the agency believes may have been genocide in Myanmar. Investigators with the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar told reporters on Monday that posts on Facebook “substantively contributed” to the racial tensions in the region.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” investigator Yanghee Lee said at a meeting of the U.N.’s human rights council. “It was 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. I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”

More than 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in the last six months in response to growing violence and insurgent attacks, with reports of rape and murder in the region. Living in makeshift settlement camps in Cox’s Bazar, these refugees have dealt with diptheria outbreaks and lack of access to clean water and food, and now must prepare for the potential of flooding and landslides as rainy season approaches. Last week, the UN’s human rights chief said that Myanmar may be committing acts of genocide and warned about further “ethnic cleansing in Rakine state.”

Facebook has publicly stated a commitment to cracking down on hate speech, including in Myanmar, and a spokesperson told me the company takes the UN’s criticisms “very seriously.”

“We have invested significantly in technology and local language expertise to help us swiftly remove hate content and people who repeatedly violate our hate speech policies,” a spokesperson told me via email. “We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns.”

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .