Bangladesh government and the ruling Awami League party are upset with the ‘unhindered use’ of Facebook by Islamist radicals and apparent ‘double standards’ of the social media platform blocking posts and pictures by secular groups on the 1971 Liberation War and the Pakistani military genocide at that time.
“Exposing gory details of the 1971 genocide has been termed hate speech by Facebook and posts and pictures have been blocked. But posts and pictures about their activities by Islamist radicals like Hifazat-e-Islam, Khelafat-e-Majlish and Jamaat-e-Islami are freely available on Facebook,” says Awami League digital learning expert and top youth leader Sufi Farooq.
“If this is not double standard, what is,” Farooq said. “Facebook has become the prime tool for spreading unrest by radical Islamists in Bangladesh.”
There were 37 912 000 Facebook users in Bangladesh in March 2020, which accounted for 22.1% of its entire population.
Social media experts say this number may have swelled substantially during the Covid.
The majority of them were men – 71.6%. People aged 18 to 24 were the largest user group (16100000).
“Posting pictures, even innocent illustrations of victorious Bangladesh freedom fighters in 1971, of murdered intellectuals, of random massacres have all been blocked on Facebook because that is believed to be against its community standards. Will it block pictures and posts about the Holocaust in which millions of Jews suffered,” said Barrister Tureen Afroz, one of the lead prosecutors in the country’s 1971 War Crimes trials, in which perpetrators of rape, murder, forcible conversions and arson during the Liberation War against Pakistan were brought to justice.
Afroz, whose book on the 1971 Pakistani war crimes have been published in Singapore, said it was time the world, specially the West, shed its ‘double standards’ and treated both the Jewish Holocaust and the 1971 Bangladesh genocide by similar standards.
“And so if Holocaust posts and pictures are not blocked, Facebook and other Western social media should not block posts, pictures and illustrations about our Liberation War, she said.
Bangladesh’s leading artist Tajul Imam is the latest victim of Facebook’s ‘double standards’.
“My post was about the story of emergence of Bangladesh ln a form of fairy tale. There was not a single word or line of hate speech against anyone. Yet Facebook has blocked my story and illustration accusing of hate speech. I want a review of my story. I want to know where I cross the community standards.”
Imam asked readers following his story to respond.
One Facebooker, Shaukat says the social media platform has employed some ‘third party’ groups to moderate content and these groups are heavily infiltrated by Islamist radical groups.
“If you say anything in favour of the government and against the Islamist radicals, your facebook page is pulled down or blocked, its reach curbed. Nine of my stories have been denied publication,” says Shaukat.
Facebooker Raatin Raad alleges that his blogs have been blocked and also those of his like-minded bloggers.
“In the last one month, my site and those of 8-10 likeminded one who pitch strongly for a secular Bangladesh have been blocked or curbed heavily, citing Community Standards. I have appealed six times but without any result.”
Bangladesh’s huge community of secular bloggers, many of whom have been murdered by Islamists since the 2013 agitation demanding penalty for 1971 war criminals, are angry at Facebook’s ‘discriminatory policies’.
But they appealed to Facebook authorities in their Asia headquarters in Singapore and global headquarters in the US to conduct ‘serious investigations’ to unravel the functioning of the social media platform in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s former junior information minister Tarana Halim recounted how Facebook has been used as a ‘force multiplier’ by Islamist radicals on several occasions to fuel violent agitations.
“Very often, we felt we need to block Facebook to control a violent agitation,” said the former actress-lawyer turned politician.
Halim also took serious umbrage with Facebook’s alleged ‘double standards’ centered round their definite of hate speech.
‘History that depicts the truth cannot be termed as hate speech’ Halim said.
“Like Jews were subjected to Nazi genocide, our Bengali people suffered genocide at the hands of Pakistan. This is history and any post that reflects or reveals details of that genocide is by no means hate speech.”
“It is unfortunate that Facebook’s definition of hate speech is preventing revealing of truth, the reality of the genocide we Bengalis faced at the hands of the Pakistan army. I appeal to Facebook to review their [policy and allow users to post experiences of the genocide — stories, pictures, whatever.”
Facebook managers, unwilling to be identified, denied the charges but said they will ‘investigate the charges.’
Bangladesh-watcher Sukhoranjan Dasgupta says Facebook is a Western organisation and ‘some western powers are trying to oust the present Bangladesh government’.
” So like the 2013 regime change operation in Ukraine primarily driven by social media, the western powers are using Facebook to spread unrest in Bangladesh to discredit and bring down the Awami League government,” he said.
Bangladesh government says three million Bengalis died in the 1971 Pakistani military genocide during the civil war that lasted eight months and nearly a quarter of a million Bengali women suffered rape and unspeakable torture.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has told Pakistan envoy Imran Siddiqui in a recent meeting that ‘my people can never forget the 1971 war crimes.’
Her government is planning to move the UN to seek a formal apology from Pakistan over the war crimes.