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18 Apr 2018

Kevin Roose and Paul Mozur, The New York Times

Myanmar: Facebook CEO Zuckerberg replies to activist accusations that Facebook incited violence

" Zuckerberg Was Called Out Over Myanmar Violence. Here is His Apology", 9 April 2018

The activists, representing six civil society organizations, harshly criticized Mr. Zuckerberg in the letter, saying he had mischaracterized Facebook’s response to violence-inciting messages in Myanmar and had not devoted sufficient resources to enforcing its hate speech rules in the violence-stricken country. Mr. Zuckerberg wrote back to the group the next day from his personal email address, apologizing for misspeaking and outlining steps that Facebook was taking to increase its moderation efforts... Facebook has been accused by United Nations investigators and human rights groups of facilitating violence against Rohingya Muslims, a minority ethnic group, by allowing anti-Muslim hate speech and false news to spread on its platform... Facebook is a dominant source of information in Myanmar, and civil society groups have accused it of being a kind of absentee landlord, with few moderators and systems in place to keep extremists from using Facebook posts to incite violence... In his email, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook had added “dozens” of Burmese language content reviewers to monitor reports of hate speech and had “increased the number of people across the company on Myanmar-related issues,” including a product team working on building tools to try to help stem the violence there.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s personal email did not quell the activists’ frustration. The groups say the biggest obstruction to their attempts to push back against a torrent of dangerous hate speech is not their lack of resources but Facebook itself. They said Facebook had a history of pledging to do more to help quell ethnic violence in Myanmar but had not fulfilled its promises... Activists in other developing countries have raised similar complaints about Facebook’s behavior. 

The disagreement centers on a chain letter that spread on Facebook Messenger in Myanmar in September. The messages warned Buddhist communities of an imminent Muslim attack. Meanwhile, Muslim populations received a separate message cautioning them of violence from militant Buddhist groups. Civil society groups say the messages paralyzed major cities in Myanmar and raised fears of a violent clash. Such incitement and scaremongering have become far too typical on Facebook, according to the groups, which say Facebook has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises to devote more resources to the issues.