Facebook has been savaged by British comedian John Oliver, who said the social media giant’s lax oversight of posts allowed rampant ‘hate speech’ and extremist content on its pages in Myanmar because the company had only a small number of Burmese-language monitors.
Oliver mocked the Californian company’s focus on growth and “connecting people,” saying the media giant became “an echo chamber for Islamophobia” and took years to ban controversial figures such as Burmese monk Ashin Wirathu, who has been accused of conspiring to persecute Muslims.
Indeed, Oliver said the situation in Myanmar became dire as many citizens in the country relied on Facebook as a news source and toxic posts by anti-Muslim monks and conservative factions gave some citizens the impression that ethnic Rohingya in western Rakhine state were illegal citizens intent on taking over the country.
Facebook has faced strong criticism for issues related to privacy, ‘fake news’ and Russian trolls, but the high-profile star, who hosts the popular Last Week Tonight show in the US, linked the social media giant to crimes United Nation officials have hailed as genocide.
The comedian devoted most of a 20-minute segment aired on Sunday night to the negative impact Facebook has had on the Southeast Asian nation, which now has a hybrid semi-democratic administration headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, while military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has powerful portfolios overseeing defense, the police and many other key areas.
Oliver accused Facebook of helping to amplify fringe extremism with deadly consequences. The end result was strong public support for a brutal military crackdown on a terror group in August and September last year that led to massacres of thousands of citizens – still denied by the military – and the mass exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
Warning: This video contains coarse language and themes.
Facebook finally banned Myanmar’s military chief in August, along with 52 pages associated with the military to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation, which had some 12 million followers.
The move occurred only minutes after a UN report accused the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, of genocide and war crimes.
The social media giant has been heavily criticized for permitting itself to be used to inflame ethnic and religious conflict in Myanmar, but it conceded that it had been “too slow” in tackling hate speech in the country and military-linked accounts accused of promoting anti-Rohingya rhetoric.
Facebook said it carried out an investigation that found the Tatmadaw “used seemingly independent news and opinion pages to covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military. This type of behavior is banned on Facebook because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make.”
The Tatmadaw often used its pages to stir up fears about the Rohingya, using terms such as “Bengali terrorists” or “Bengali illegal immigrants,” as well as discrediting claims that it committed crimes in Rakhine state.
Earlier, Facebook pledged to hire more Burmese speakers to monitor hate speech on its pages. The US corporation, which was set up in 2004, now has more than two billion active users and reported revenue of more than US$40 billion in 2017.
People in Myanmar were relatively “late” in using the internet because of the country’s long-running civil strife, poor infrastructure and widespread poverty. But one in four people are now reported to be regular users and Facebook remains the most popular social media outlet by a long way.