Facebook takes action against Myanmar military after damning UN report

27 Aug 2018

Rohingya refugees waiting to register at a camp in Bangladesh. Image: HAFIZIE SHABUDIN/Shutterstock

A UN report finds that military officials in Myanmar had ‘genocidal intent’ against Rohingya as Facebook takes action against misinformation in the country.

Facebook has banned a number of accounts in Myanmar that it says helped stoke ethnic and religious tensions in the conflicted country.

A report released by the UN today (27 August) says that senior military leaders in Myanmar must be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes against the Rohingya Muslims.

The report is the conclusion of a fact-finding mission established by the UN in March of 2017. It accuses the Myanmar military or ‘Tatmadaw’ of murder, rape, torture, false imprisonment and sexual slavery.

The UN report also criticised Facebook, which was the main digital vehicle used to spread hateful content against the Rohingya. It said: “Although improved in recent months, Facebook’s response has been slow and ineffective. The extent to which Facebook posts and messages have led to real-world discrimination and violence must be independently and thoroughly examined.”

Facebook takes action

Shortly after the UN published the damning findings, Facebook announced it would be removing the accounts of 20 individuals or groups in Myanmar from Instagram and Facebook. These include senior general Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the Tatmadaw and the military television network, Myawady.

The general is among six military figures cited by the UN, which said all six must face justice for their roles in the violent acts committed against the Rohingya.

Not fast enough

On 16 August, a major investigation noted that Facebook was too slow in acting to stem the tide of misinformation on its platform.

In its statement today, Facebook admitted it had been “slow to act” to manage the issue in Myanmar. The company described the violence as “truly horrific”.

18 accounts and 52 pages are now banned, which were followed by close to 12m people.

Experts have flagged the issue of Facebook’s role in the Myanmar conflict since as early as 2014. Some activists say that the situation in the country is challenging and it can be hard to tell the difference between sharing information and sharing hate speech. They say that the culpability of spreading hate speech also lies with Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, which failed to take action to stem the tide.

A huge responsibility

The company concluded: “We continue to work to prevent the misuse of Facebook in Myanmar, including through the independent human rights impact assessment we commissioned earlier in the year.

“This is a huge responsibility given so many people there rely on Facebook for information – more so than in almost any other country given the nascent state of the news media and the recent rapid adoption of mobile phones. It’s why we’re so determined to do better in the future.”

Rohingya refugees waiting to register at a camp in Bangladesh. Image: HAFIZIE SHABUDIN/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects