UN says Facebook helped fuel Rohingya ethnic cleansing

The United Nations has accused Facebook of playing a “determining role” in stirring up hatred against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine state since a military crackdown that began in late August. Many have provided harrowing accounts of murder, arson and rape by the Burmese security forces as they fled their villages.

A United Nations team investigating possible acts of genocide alleged on Monday that social media had been used to fuel negative perceptions against the Rohingya among the majority Buddhist population.

“It has substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

“Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” he said.

Facebook has previously said that it was working to remove hate speech in Burma and to kick off people who consistently shared this kind of content.

On Tuesday, Facebook told the BBC that there is “no place for hate speech” on its platform.

“We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech,” said a Facebook spokeswoman.

However, UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee charged that Facebook was a huge part of public, civil and private life, and that the government used it to relay information to the public.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” she told reporters on Monday, adding that while the social media had helped the impoverished country, it had also been exploited to spread hate speech.

“It was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities,” she said.

“I’m afraid that Facebook had now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”

The statements came during an announcement of the interim findings of the UN fact-finding mission on Monday.

The UN report is based on more than 600 interviews with human rights abuse victims and witnesses, which were carried out in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.

The damning findings pointed to “violence of an extremely cruel nature” in Rakhine State, the home of the Rohingya minority.

It documents atrocities including gang rape, mutilations and the targeting of children, indicating “violations of the most serious kind, in all likelihood amounting to crimes under international law.”

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