Facebook tenders apology to Myanmar civil society groups

Facebook has been battered by allegations that posts on its site have helped fuel communal bloodshed in Myanmar

YANGON

3 min read

Facebook apologised on Friday to Myanmar civil society groups who took issue with Mark Zuckerberg’s defence of the platform’s record on curbing hate speech roiling the country, Mizzima News carries a report by AFP.

According to the news report, Facebook has been battered by allegations that posts on its site have helped fuel communal bloodshed in Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims.

On Thursday, six Myanmar organisations published an open letter criticising an interview of Zuckerberg in news site Vox this week. In that interview Zuckerberg cited examples of both Myanmar Buddhists and Muslims spreading “sensational” messages on Facebook Messenger that warned of imminent violence from the other community.

“That’s the kind of thing where I think it is clear that people were trying to use our tools in order to incite real harm. Now, in that case, our systems detect that’s going on. We stop those messages from going through,” Zuckerberg was quoted as saying.

In their letter, the six local tech and human rights organisations said they were “surprised” to hear Zuckerberg “praise the effectiveness” of Facebook’s systems in Myanmar.

“It took over four days from when the messages started circulating for the escalation to reach you,” the groups said, who had flagged the worrying content to Facebook.

“Far from being stopped, they spread in an unprecedented way, reaching country-wide and causing widespread fear and at least three violent incidents in the process.”

When reached for a comment on Friday, a Facebook spokesperson conceded the company was too slow in responding to reports about the incendiary messages.

“We are sorry that Mark did not make clearer that it was the civil society groups in Myanmar who first reported these messages,” the spokesperson said.

Facebook has also added more Myanmar-language reviewers and is rolling out the ability to report content in the Messenger service, the spokesperson added.

In late January Facebook removed the page of popular monk Wirathu, known for virulent anti-Rohingya rhetoric. Last year it regulated the use of the word “kalar” which is considered derogatory against Muslims.

In their joint letter, the local groups said Facebook’s handling of hate speech and vicious rumours in Myanmar has been “inadequate” for years, adding that their offers to craft broader solutions have gone unanswered.

They urged the social media giant to add reporting mechanisms to the Messenger app, increase transparency, engage more with local stakeholders and draw on data and engineering teams to identify repeat offenders.

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