Mark Zuckerberg addresses Facebook concerns of Myanmar activists

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg has promised to do more to help tackle hate speech in Myanmar after activists accused him ...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 12:57 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 12:57 PM

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg has promised to do more to help tackle hate speech in Myanmar after activists accused him of turning a blind eye.

In a response to an open letter from a group of tech and nonprofit organizations, Zuckerberg said the social media giant will introduce technological improvements to filter hate content, and has hired "dozens more Burmese language" moderators to deal with the issue.

"We now we have a special product team working to better understand the specific local challenges and build the right tools to help keep people there safe," Zuckerberg said.

However, the activists who originally called Zuckerberg out said his response did not "change our core belief that your proposed improvements are nowhere near enough to ensure that Myanmar users are provided with the same standards of care as users in the US or Europe," reiterating the heightened stakes in the Southeast Asian country.

"When things go wrong in Myanmar, the consequences can be really serious -- potentially disastrous," they said in a follow-up statement.

As many as 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar's western Rakhine state have been forced from their homes and across the border into neighboring Bangladesh since last summer, following a sustained campaign of violence and abuse, which the UN has called "ethnic cleansing."

Myo Min, a director of Equality Myanmar and a signatory to the letters to Zuckerberg, told CNN Facebook's work to tackle hate speech is "not enough ... we should have more accountability and transparency (from Facebook)."

"At least he's showed interest (in the problems faced here)," he added.

"We really need more collaboration with local civil society organizations. We're the ones who know, can read local language, can monitor, but we need a quick and efficient reporting mechanism (for hate speech)."

Messages caused 'country-wide fear'

Activists in Myanmar said they had found examples of Facebook tools "being used to incite real harm," including a call to arms against Muslims over a fabricated "jihad" planned for September 2017 shared via Facebook Messenger.

"Far from being stopped, (these examples) spread in an unprecedented way, reaching country-wide and causing widespread fear and at least three violent incidents in the process," the authors of the original letter said.

They cited an interview Zuckerberg did with Vox, in which he said Facebook's systems "detected" the hate speech.

However, according to the letter, many of the examples were raised to Facebook by the authors themselves, and represented a "far from systematic" approach to the detection of hate speech.

Calling this "the opposite of effective moderation," the group also chided Facebook for what it said was a lack of proper mechanisms for emergency escalation, a reticence to engage local stakeholders and a lack of transparency.

Zuckerberg said the company is "rolling out improvements to our reporting mechanism in Messenger to make it easier to find, and simpler for people to report conversations," like the false jihad messages.

The activists said his response did not go far enough, and included a list of ten questions for Zuckerberg concerning the number of incidents reported in Myanmar, amount of accounts closed due to violations of standards, and other indicators of hate speech.

'Inadequate response'

The Rohingya refugee crisis has been attributed to the actions of the Myanmar military, which has denied the intentional killing of civilians and insisted its operations primarily target terrorists.

Hate speech and incitements to violence against Rohingya "on social media is rampant, particularly on Facebook," said Marzuki Darusman, chair of a United Nations probe into human rights in Myanmar, adding it largely "goes unchecked."

Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, added "ultra-nationalist Buddhists ... are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities."

Ethnic conflict has plagued Myanmar for centuries, and violence has flared up in Rakhine on numerous occasions between the Buddhist majority and minority Muslims.

Raymond Serrato, a data analyst who has studied Facebook activity around last year's military action in Rakhine, said it would be "superficial" to ignore the pre-existing tension, but added "Facebook has definitely facilitated it."

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