[Myanmar] Facebook ramps up ban on hate mongers’ accounts

Four armed groups are the latest addition to its growing list 

 

Social media giant Facebook has banned four more groups, which it described as “dangerous organizations” based on their verified use of the platform to incite violence and attacks on civilians in Myanmar. 

The Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Kachin Independence Army, and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) were taken down Tuesday, 5 February 2019, and prevented from using Facebook’s services to “fuel tension on the ground.” 

“Praise, support and representation” for said organizations will likewise be removed, Facebook Newsroom reported. 

This ban is the latest of the U.S. online company’s actions to “prevent and disrupt offline harm.” It comes on the heels of similar actions taken by the U.S. social networking service company against other accounts that had been spewing hate through the platform. 

In September 2018, the Human Rights Council, in its “Report of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar,” stressed Facebook’s role in spreading hate speech in the country and called out what it described as its “slow and ineffective” response to inflame discrimination and violence on its platform. 

In a country with a long history of intercommunal violence, Facebook – which is equal to the internet in Myanmar – has become a critical battleground for discrimination and marginalization. 

In December 2018, SEAPA Journalism Fellow Khine Myat Kyi Thar Shwe (see “Hate Speech Adds New Weapons to Armed Conflict”) reported that clashing ethnic armies Restoration Council for Shan State and TNLA have used the comments section of their Facebook pages to post angry messages such as “kill that Shan leader” or “f-ck that Ta-ang leader.” 

They were also known to spread disinformation, or plain wrong information, and tamper with images to instigate hatred, if not violence. 

Before 2015, tensions between these armed groups from the northern Shan state had led to the displacement of local villagers. Between January 2017 and September 2018, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 44,000 villagers from the Shan state had been displaced (see “Myanmar: Civilians displaced by fighting in Kachin/Shan 2017-18”). TNLA is among the four groups included in Facebook’s recent ban. 

Since August 2018, the company has taken down 425 Facebook Pages, 17 Facebook Groups, 135 Facebook accounts and 15 Instagram account for deliberate misrepresentation and banned Myanmar military officials from the platform. 

This damage control necessitates a greater amount of work in a country with more than 100 languages. 

SEAPA Journalism Fellows Su Myat Mon and Kyaw Ye Lynn (see “On social media, cleaning up isn’t easy”) found that news outlets have become the “collateral damage” in Facebook’s algorithm and content review against hate speech. While civil society has taken initiatives to fight disinformation and hate speech through media and digital literacy, the workload of moderating 18 million social media users in Myanmar remains problematic. 

“It is disappointing that there are so few groups doing this work to counter the spread of fake news online and that most rely on volunteers,” Ma Phyu Phyu Thi, research director at Myanmar ICT for Development Organization lamented.

 

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