Facebook admits it was used against Rohingya

NEW YORK • Facebook's chief executive and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said the social media company is aware its tools have been used to spread anti-Rohingya propaganda and "incite real harm" in Myanmar.

In an interview published by news site Vox on Monday, he said Facebook is paying attention to its role as a platform for disseminating messages that could fuel conflict in the country.

"The Myanmar issues have, I think, gotten a lot of focus inside the company. I remember, one Saturday morning, I got a phone call and we detected that people were trying to spread sensational messages through... to each side of the conflict, basically telling the Muslims, 'Hey, there is about to be an uprising of the Buddhists, so make sure that you are armed and go to this place'. And then the same thing on the other side," he said.

"I think it is clear that people were trying to use our tools in order to incite real harm. Now, in that case, our systems detect that... We stop those messages from going through. But this is certainly something that we are paying a lot of attention to."

Militant attacks last August in Myanmar's Rakhine state sparked a military crackdown, forcing some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. The United Nations and several Western countries said the crackdown constitutes ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar said its forces have been waging a legitimate campaign against terrorists.

Vox editor-at-large Ezra Klein, who interviewed Mr Zuckerberg, said: "One of the scary stories I have read about Facebook over the past year is that it had become a real source of anti-Rohingya propaganda in Myanmar, and thus become part of an ethnic cleansing."

He asked Mr Zuckerberg if Facebook is too big to manage its global scale in some countries effectively.

He cited comments by Mr Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, that while Facebook is dominant as a source of news in Myanmar, the country is not an incredibly important market for the firm - which has led to Facebook being like an "absentee landlord" in South-east Asia.

Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook does need to become "a more global company", and that "it is a constant challenge to make sure that we are putting due attention on all of the people in different parts of the community around the world".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook admits it was used against Rohingya'. Print Edition | Subscribe