Facebook fueled violence and hatred in Rohingya crisis, UN investigators say

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”

by Alexa Liautaud
Mar 13 2018, 9:59pm

United Nations investigators blamed Facebook for playing a crucial role in the spread of misinformation and hate speech against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, where officials are suspected of possible “acts of genocide.”

U.N. special rapporteur for human rights Yanghee Lee told reporters that Facebook had “turned into a beast,” and was exploited to incite violence against the country's Rohingya community.

“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,” Lee said.

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”

The chair of the U.N. Human Rights Council fact-finding mission Marzuki Darusman said overall social media networks “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict.”

More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since last August amid a brutal and bloody crackdown by government security forces. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council in September that the violence was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Facebook told the BBC there was “no room for hate speech” on its platform.

“We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech,”the Facebook spokeswoman added.

But this isn’t the first time Facebook’s role in Myanmar’s spiraling crisis has been criticized. Last October, a New York Times report found the platform played a crucial role in stoking ethnic violence, specifically as a microphone for ultranationalist monk Ashin Wirathu who spread false information and hate speech to his loyal followers.

Last month, the social media platform removed the Facebook page of the infamous monk for violating community standards.

Facebook has struggled to take a clear stance on controversial political content and misinformation, particularly in countries with strongman governments. The tech company removed an anti-migrant video posted by the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for violating its user guidelines, but later reposted it because it was “newsworthy.”

Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan government blocked Facebook as well as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Viber in an attempt to prevent anti-Muslim violence.

Cover image: Rehana Khatun, whose husband Mohammed Nur was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture with her child at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018.