Facebook’s link to the Rohingya genocide

Will the parent company, Meta, choose to be an “accomplice in genocide” rather than a “force for good”?

I use Facebook a lot. I use it as a source of information and to disseminate information and ideas. I also use it, occasionally, for lighter moments, to share photos of beautiful landscapes, spiritual inspiration, and moments with my family and friends. Facebook can be a force for good, if we use it well.

But a powerful and important new report by Amnesty International entitled The social atrocity: Meta and the right of recourse for the Rohingya reveals the dark side of Facebook.

Amnesty’s report reveals that Facebook owner Meta knew – or at least should have known – that its algorithmic systems were “amplifying the spread of harmful anti-Rohingya content in Myanmar”, yet the company did not acted. In other words, Meta’s focus on profit through its use of algorithms “significantly contributed to the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar regime against the Rohingya people in 2017.”

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These atrocities have been recognized by the US government and others as genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Court of Justice has agreed to consider a genocide case against the Rohingyas within its jurisdiction.

Sawyeddollah, a 21-year-old Rohingya refugee, told Amnesty International: “I saw a lot of horrible things on Facebook. And I just thought the people posting that were bad… Then I realized it’s not just those people — the posters — but Facebook is also responsible. Facebook helps them by not taking care of their platform.

As a matter of principle, I am a defender of freedom of expression and an opponent of censorship. I don’t like the so-called “cancel culture” or “de-platforming” that has become a phenomenon, especially in western democracies, where people are pushed out of the public square, online and offline, because ‘they express opinions with which others might express them. to disagree. I worry about this growing trend. It is undemocratic and risks undermining our civil liberties.

“If Amnesty’s evidence is correct, Facebook not only failed to remove posts that spread Rohingya hatred, but actively promoted them”

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. There’s a big difference between, say, feminist Germaine Greer or novelist JK Rowling being “de-platformed” by overzealous intolerant proponents of a new gender ideology because these two women challenged the transgender agenda. , and the misuse of social media to stoke racial and religious hatred on such a scale that it culminates in genocide.

And it seems to me that too often Facebook joins the “cancel culture” in the West by deleting posts that might not be “woke” or “politically correct” while being complicit in posts that actively supported, encouraged and even incited rape, torture. and murder. Facebook must, at the very least, reconsider its priorities.

For if Amnesty’s evidence is correct, Facebook not only failed to remove posts that spread hatred of the Rohingya, but actively promoted it. Thanks to algorithms, these publications have been boosted.

“Meta uses engagement-based algorithmic systems to power Facebook’s news feed, ranking, recommendations, and group features, shaping what is seen on the platform. Meta benefits when users remain on the platform as long as possible, selling more targeted ads Posting inflammatory content — including content that promotes hatred, incites violence, hostility, and discrimination — is an effective way to keep people on the platform longer. As such, promoting and amplifying this type of content is essential to Facebook’s surveillance-based business model,” according to Amnesty.

Facebook in Myanmar, in the months and years leading up to the 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya, became, in Amnesty’s words, “an echo chamber for anti-Rohingya content.”

Knowing Myanmar well, this does not surprise me on one level. Facebook is used in Myanmar as a news channel — indeed, for many people it is their only source of information. With the rapid rise of affordable mobile phone technology for Myanmar residents over the past decade, Facebook has opened up a new world of communications and information. While it could have been a force for liberalization and democratization and spreading good ideas, instead – for Myanmar – it has become an agent of genocide.

“Even content from the highest echelons of the Burmese military inciting violence and discrimination has been released unchallenged”

As Amnesty notes: “Actors linked to the Myanmar military and radical Buddhist nationalist groups have flooded the platform with anti-Muslim content, posting misinformation claiming there is an imminent takeover by Muslims and describing the Rohingya as “invaders”.

The UN’s independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar ultimately concluded that “the role of social media [was] important” in atrocities in a country where “Facebook is the Internet”.

A post shared more than 1,000 times showed a Muslim human rights defender described as a “national traitor”. Comments left on the post included threatening and racist messages, including “He’s a Muslim”. Muslims are dogs and must be put down,” and “Don’t leave him alive. Delete all of its race. Time is counted.’

Even content from the highest echelons of the Burmese military inciting violence and discrimination has been released unchallenged. Chief General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s military, posted on his Facebook page in 2017: “We openly declare that our country absolutely has no Rohingya race. He then seized power in a coup in February 2021.

According to Amnesty’s report, Meta has repeatedly failed to carry out proper human rights due diligence on its operations in Myanmar, despite its accountability under international standards.

Since 2012, internal studies have indicated that Meta knew its algorithms could lead to serious dangerous consequences, and in 2016, Meta’s own research clearly acknowledged that “our recommender systems make the problem worse” of extremism.

“Facebook can still be a force for good if it changes its model, revises its systems”

Civil society made numerous representations to Meta over five years, from 2012 to 2017, warning of the dangers of extreme violence in Myanmar. Yet Meta did not act. Amnesty wrote to Meta several times in 2022 but received no response.

Today, Amnesty International is campaigning for Meta to pay for reparations. One way Meta could redeem – to some extent – ​​her reputation and her conscience, if she has any, is to support a million dollar education project in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Such funding would help the Rohingyas and would represent only 0.002% of Meta’s profits in 20201, or $46.7 billion. Still, Meta denied that request, saying, “Facebook does not directly engage in philanthropic activities.” Well, maybe that should start.

Facebook can still be a force for good if it changes its model, overhauls its systems, puts principles before profit, and stops using algorithms to fuel the hate that fuels crimes against humanity, genocide and other atrocities. Meta should respond to calls from the Rohingya and wider civil society.

If he doesn’t, then according to Showkutara, a 22-year-old Rohingya woman and youth activist, “we will go to every court in the world.” Does Meta really want to live with the charge of “complicit in genocide” rather than “forcing for good”?

One final thought – I don’t know if Mark Zuckerberg and Meta realize this, but if you add an extra “t” to the company name it would be Metta – which in Burmese Buddhist terminology means “kindness of heart”. It would certainly be better to respect this principle than to be an agent of genocide.

*Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is a senior East Asia analyst at the international human rights organization CSW, co-founder and managing director of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Commission. British Conservative Party member, member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Advisory Group and member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign Board. He is the author of seven books, including three books on Myanmar, in particular his latest, “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”, and his journey of faith is chronicled in his book “From Burma to Rome: a journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). His new book, “The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny,” will be published in October 2022 by Optimum Publishing International. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.