Facebook move on Myanmar raises thorny political questions
M Humayun Kabir: Facebook’s ban of Myanmar’s military leaders marks a new step for the leading social network against state “actors”.
The ban issue also raises thorny questions on how the company deals with repressive regimes using the platform, reports AFP.
This was the first time Facebook has barred members of the military or state actors, the company confirmed.
The move against Myanmar’s army chief and other top military brass on Monday came on the heels of an explosive UN investigation.
Facebook’s actions came after repeated complaints that the platform was being used to spread hate and incite violence against the Rohingya.
The UN report, which recommended that military leaders face prosecution for genocide over their crackdown on the Muslim minority, said Facebook had become “a useful instrument” for those seeking to spread hate.
Facebook said its move on Monday was based on exceptional circumstances following the release of the report.
“We’ve taken this step in Myanmar following findings by international experts, including a recent UN-commissioned report, that many of these officials committed serious human rights abuses in the country,” said Ruchika Budhraja, a Facebook spokeswoman.
“And we believe that their use of Facebook may have fueled ethnic and religious tension in Myanmar.”
Budhraja said that because so many people rely on Facebook for information in Myanmar, the situation is “fairly unique.”
“That said, we recognize that people in other parts of the world face devastating violence on a daily basis, and we will continue to investigate and take action when we have enough facts to do so,” she added.
Facebook and other social networks have been under pressure to curb the spread of disinformation, especially when it can be seen as “hate speech” that may incite violence. Governments themselves can be the sources of such false information.
Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University professor who studies social media, said while the move in Myanmar was “a significant development,” the company “has a lot more work to do.”
Oxford University researchers said in a report this year they found “organized social media manipulation” in 48 countries.
“A range of government agencies and political parties are exploiting social media platforms to spread junk news and disinformation, exercise censorship and control,” they said.
Irina Raicu, director of the internet ethics program at Santa Clara University, said Facebook appeared to go further than in the past by banning 20 individuals and organizations even if they had no prior presence on the network.
Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Institute, a Washington think tank, said Facebook could face more questions on its approach to hate speech.
Several countries have already banned Facebook while others use the platform as part of efforts to reinforce control.