Facebook promises to tackle hate speech against Rohingya in Burma

Facebook is the primary source of online information in Myanmar where digital literacy remains low but new mobile phones come pre-installed with the Facebook application

Facebook is the primary source of online information in Myanmar where digital literacy remains low but new mobile phones come pre-installed with the Facebook application

"A minority of users is seeking to use Facebook as a platform to undermine democracy and incite offline violence, including serious crimes under worldwide law; for example, the Report of the Independent global Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar describes how Facebook has been used by bad actors to spread anti-Muslim, anti-Rohingya, and anti-activist sentiment", the report states.

The report comes amid reports of widespread genocide being committed by the military in Myanmar.

There are now 20 million Facebook users in Myanmar, and it is used by large numbers of people as their main source of news in the absence of a free media.

Another recommendation includes the establishment of a policy that defines Facebook's approach to content moderation with respect to human rights, a suggestion Warofka said Facebook is "looking into".

David Mathieson, an independent analyst who has lived and worked in the region for years, told CBSN earlier this year that social media has been "one of the most damaging aspects of this entire crisis".

The report does acknowledge that Facebook has made progress, but adds that there is "more to do".

Some 700,000 Rohingya fled their homes past year after a brutal army crackdown. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed, raped and assaulted, villages were razed to the ground and more than 700,000 Rohingya fled over the border to Bangladesh.

"The report concludes that, prior to this year, we weren't doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence", Alex Warofka, a Facebook product policy manager, wrote in a blog post. "A minority of users is seeking to use Facebook as a platform to undermine democracy and incite offline violence, including serious crimes under global law". The company took action on around 64,000 pieces of content in Myanmar for violating hate speech policies in 2018.

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The report - which only briefly referenced the Rohingya specifically - also warned that the 2020 elections presented a serious risk of further human rights abuses and warned Facebook to prepare now for "multiple eventualities".

After five decades of stale state propaganda, along came a feast of colourful, interactive news.

In August this year, the same United Nations experts concluded the inflammatory material Burmese people had been exposed to day in, day out had played a role in enabling the military's purge of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state - an attack which the United Nations believes was genocide.

"We have invested heavily.to examine and address the abuse of Facebook in Myanmar".

"We are committed to working with and providing information to the relevant authorities as they investigate global human rights violations in Myanmar, and we are preserving data for this objective", Warofka wrote, noting it took this approach with content and accounts associated with the Myanmar military it removed in August and October. Facebook says the report was focused on "Myanmar stakeholders", for whom the USA elections are not a priority.

Much of Myanmar communicates online using the Zawgyi font, which is not easily translated into English and therefore using it makes it harder for bad content to be detected.

According to Facebook, Myanmar is "the only country in the world with a significant online presence that hasn't standardised on Unicode - the global text encoding standard".

Facebook has already banned several Myanmar military and government figures it said had "inflamed ethnic and religious tensions".

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