Global social media giant Facebook will need to increase its efforts to combat hate speech against the persecuted Rohingya minority, says the company’s top policy official.
Since the outbreak of Rohingya refugee crisis in August 2017, U.N. investigators and human rights groups have criticized Facebook harshly over alleged lack of action against accounts that used its platform to encourage violence against the disfranchised Rohingya Muslims.
Speaking at the New America Foundation, Facebook head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert said the company has made improvements to address the problem in Myanmar, but more action is needed to prevent hate-filled content against the Rohingya population.
“I think one of the biggest things we have to do is to improve our relationships with civil society groups on the ground,” Bickert said. But she admitted that “it is a complicated landscape, and there is a lot more we can do there.”
The Rohingya represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in the west coast state of Rakhine.Their population was estimated to be around one million at the beginning of 2017, but the United Nations says nearly 900,000 have fled into neighboring Bangladesh due to a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s army, which claimed it was targeting terrorists.
Rights activists inside the country and out have accused Facebook of amplifying ethnic violence in the country by not taking swift action against extremist Buddhists who use social media to spread anti-Rohingya content, ranging from hate posts to false news articles, photos, and videos.
The U.N. Myanmar investigators last March said they found that social media outlets, particularly Facebook, played a “determining role” in spreading hate speech in the country.
“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told reporters.
Facebook officials say they do not tolerate hate speech and they will suspend and sometimes remove accounts that consistently shares content promoting hate, despite the difficulties.