UN officials blast Facebook over spread of Rohingya hate speech

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A young woman looks at her Facebook wall while she travels on a bus in Yangon.
A young woman looks at her Facebook wall while she travels on a bus in Yangon.
Image: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Facebook has long been criticised for its role in the Rohingya crisis, an assessment now underscored by comments by United Nations investigators.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar told reporters that social media had a “determining role” in spreading hate speech in the country, according to Reuters.

“It has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” Darusman said.

Escalating violence has forced more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border to Bangladesh, in what the UN’s human rights chief has described as a “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Facebook is a major news source for people in Myanmar, where it has been used as a platform to stir up public outrage against the Rohingya.

“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,” said UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee, reported by Reuters. 

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

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

A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable it has “clear rules” against hate speech and the incitement of violence, and that the company works hard to keep it off the platform.

“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. 

“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. 

“Learning from experts on-the-ground, we will continue to refine the way in which we implement and promote awareness of our policies to ensure that our community is safe, especially people who may be vulnerable or under attack.”

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