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Facebook bars Myanmar’s top military chief for hate speech

Facebook removed 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages that were followed by nearly 12 million people.

world Updated: Aug 27, 2018 18:25 IST
Iain Marlow
Iain Marlow
Bloomberg
myanmar,facebook,hate speech
Facebook Inc. has also removed accounts and pages of Myanmar's Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. (REUTERS)

Facebook Inc. has removed accounts and pages linked to Myanmar’s top military officials as a new United Nations report accused the country’s armed forces of committing war crimes against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

On Monday, Facebook removed 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages that were followed by nearly 12 million people, the company said in a blog post. It is banning 20 individuals and organizations, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and the military’s Myawaddy television network.

“We want to prevent them from using our service to further inflame ethnic and religious tensions,” Facebook said on Tuesday.

The move comes on the same day that a United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated fact-finding mission issued a report accusing the senior general and other top commanders of acting with “genocidal intent” toward the Muslim Rohingya, nearly 1 million of whom have fled into neighboring Bangladesh. The UN report, which calls the military’s so-called “clearance operations” a “human rights catastrophe,” quotes a 2017 Facebook post from the general as proof the military pre-planned its attacks on the Rohingya.

A Myanmar government spokesman did not answer a call for comment on the UN report. Previously, Myanmar government officials have blamed Rohingya for launching attacks on state security forces and for setting fire to their own homes.

“While we were too slow to act, we’re now making progress – with better technology to identify hate speech, improved reporting tools, and more people to review content,” Facebook said. “Today, we are taking more action in Myanmar.”

Fighting Abuse

Facebook has been criticized in a number of Asian countries as its platforms, including Instagram and the widely-used WhatsApp messaging service, are used to spread hate, misinformation and fake news or rumors that can help fuel mob violence.

In India, fake rumors spread through WhatsApp led to mob attacks and numerous deaths, while President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines has been accused of using Facebook to target critics. These developments, in part, led WhatsApp to begin labeling forwarded messages, in an attempt to crack down on fake news and rumors.

In its post, Facebook noted that the “nascent” state of the news media and the rapid adoption of smartphones made Myanmar particularly vulnerable.

“We have a responsibility to fight abuse on Facebook,” wrote Facebook product manager Sara Su in a blog post earlier this month. “This is especially true in countries like Myanmar where many people are using the internet for the first time and social media can be used to spread hate and fuel tension on the ground.”

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 17:35 IST