LAST_UPDATESat, 17 Mar 2018 3pm

How Facebook Is Helping Spread Hate Speech In The Rohingya Crisis

Photo: Hereward Holland/Al JazeeraPhoto: Hereward Holland/Al Jazeera

While the Malaysian government is carrying out new laws to stamp out fake news in the country, the United Nations (UN) recently blamed social media, as the beast that is instigating violence, especially against Myanmar’s ethnic minority Muslim community, the Rohingyas.

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.

“It has ... substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissention 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,” Reuters quoted him saying.

Similarly, UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said Facebook's role in disseminating information to the public plays a huge part of the public’s life, which has affected their views on the genocide that is taking place.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” she said.

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.”

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

To date, more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into Bangladesh, with many refugees providing testimonies of executions and rapes by Myanmar’s security forces.

In the past, Al Jazeera had highlighted how Facebook was used to amplify hate speech against Rohingya Muslims, while last year, Daily Beast reported that activists documenting the alleged ethnic cleansing in Myanmar were silenced by Facebook, as their postings were removed and their accounts suspended.

Though Facebook has yet to comment on UN's recent statement, the social media giant has previously admitted that it faces difficulty in tackling hate speech.

Facebook which boasts two billion users reportedly removed about 66,000 posts a week last year, which it deemed offensive and incites hate.

“If a person consistently shares content promoting hate, we may take a range of actions such as temporarily suspending their ability to post and ultimately, removal of their account,” Facebook explained last month.

The Sri Lankan Government recently also blocked Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp across the country for three days, after analysing that violence has been instigated through Facebook postings which threatened more attacks by nationalist Sinhalese crowds on minority Muslims there. 

Sri Lanka's government spokesman Harindra B. Dassanayake commenting on the ban said, “These platforms are banned because they were spreading hate speeches and amplifying them,” while adding that the government believes fake news of ethnically motivated attacks circulating on the network encouraged retaliatory violence.