Facebook accused of using the midterms to bury a report into its human rights impact in Myanmar

"Truly courageous to release it the night before a massive election."

With the media’s gaze locked on the midterms, Facebook quietly slipped out a report Monday night that lays out in painful detail the role the social network played in ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Burying the news further, the report came out at the same time the company announced it had blocked more “suspicious” accounts trying to influence Tuesday’s vote.

“Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence,” the report from San Francisco-based non-profit Business for Social Responsibility concludes.


People were quick to note on social media that the timing of the release all but ensures that media coverage will be minimal.

The report was concluded in September. Facebook did not respond to a question about the timing of the release.

“Our biggest concern from the beginning has been systemic failures to enforce their policies — this report does not address that,” Victoire Rio, an activist based in Myanmar who called for the human rights audit to be conducted, told VICE News.

READ: Facebook is still blocking "suspicious" accounts hours before the polls open

Rio added that Facebook’s conclusion that it wasn't “doing enough to help prevent [its] platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence” and is “now taking the right corrective actions” is very misleading.

U.N. investigators determined earlier this year that Facebook had facilitated ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. “I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended," Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur of human rights in Myanmar, said at the time.

The report, commissioned by Facebook itself, warns that despite the company’s claims to be doing more, there is still a “high likelihood” of hate speech being posted in Myanmar.

“We’re yet to get clarity around performance benchmarks and have yet to see significant improvements in performance and user experience,” Rio said.


The report’s authors noted that the problems could impact the 2020 general election in Myanmar.

“Today’s challenging circumstances are likely to escalate in the run-up to the election, and Facebook would be well-served by preparing for multiple eventualities now,” the authors warned.

Facebook product policy manager Alex Warofka said the company has has hired 99 native Burmese speakers this year and is ramping up its monitoring efforts. However, the company still has no permanent employee based in Myanmar, and activists have said the social network relies too heavily on their work to fill in the gaps in its systems.

Cover image: Rohingya refugees are seen outside of their makeshift tent in the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh August 24, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)