Facebook accused of undermining aid to Burma / Myanmar

Rohingya Refugee Women
Rohingya refugee women cry while crossing the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh, November 12, 2017.

REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

LONDON— Facebook has been accused of undermining international aid efforts in Burma (sometimes also called Myanmar), because of its role in spreading hate speech and misinformation.

A report from UK politicians joined the UN in blaming the spread of false information and hate speech about the persecuted Rohingya group on Facebook.

Facebook provides a popular basic internet service in Burma, called “Free Basics”, which critics say has been co-opted into spreading hate speech, worsening the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

British MPs said this had potentially curbed the success of Britain’s aid programmes in the country. They said Facebook was “failing to take responsibility for the misuse of its platform.”

“The activity of Facebook undermines international aid to Burma, including the UK Government’s work,” the report said. “Facebook is releasing a product [Free Basics] that is dangerous to consumers and deeply unethical.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried to control the narrative of the app’s declining usage

Stephen Lam/Reuters

Burma’s military has evicted more than half a million Rohingya in a brutal campaign involving killings, arson, rapes, and torture. The events have triggered international condemnation.

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny for its role in the crisis. The UN said in March that Facebook was integral to public life in Burma , and that “everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar”, but also that ultra-nationalist Buddhists misused the platform to spread hate speech.

An earlier Washington Post report revealed that Facebook in Burma was awash with fake reports that there was no ethnic cleansing in the country, something one expert described as “genocide propaganda.” According to the Post, more people in Burma have access to Facebook than have electricity in their homes.

Sunday’s report, from the UK’s parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said the UK had committed £129 million in aid to Burma to date.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Its executives have acknowledged the company’s role in the Burma crisis, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitting that users were trying to incite “real harm.”

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