Last year, a BuzzFeed investigation found that trolls Myanmar were using fake news and doctored photos, spread on Facebook, to encourage violence against the country’s Muslim minority.
Now the United Nations is affirming that Facebook may have played a role in the ongoing violence in the Southeast Asian nation, where reports of rapes and killings carried out by government forces have led more than a half million Rohingya Muslims to flee into nearby Bangladesh. One U.N. investigator told reporters that Facebook had "turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended."
Facebook’s role in the Myanmar unrest is well established. In 2016, the company partnered with a leading telecom to provide users with free access, and both rebels and Myanmar military officials have used Twitter and Facebook to communicate about the conflict. By October of last year — a full six months after the *BuzzFeed *report — the New York Times reported that the violence and misinformation were still not a top priority for Facebook. The New York Times itself even reported straightforwardly on a Facebook post by a Myanmar military general.
The world is only beginning to grapple with social platforms’ power to incite unrest and tip elections. In its early days, as with the Arab Spring, that capacity was often framed as a positive force against dictatorial governments. But as attention in the United States has turned to the role that Russian-sponsored online propaganda likely played in the 2016 presidential race, that narrative has soured.
"We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," said a Facebook spokesperson. “This work includes a dedicated Safety Page for Myanmar, a locally illustrated version of our Community Standards, and regular training sessions for civil society and local community groups across the country.”