SINCE the arrival of Facebook in our lives all those years ago, the world has changed dramatically and the social media platform has undoubtedly had its part to play in that.
But there have been several new charges levelled at the platform that point to its unbridled influence and potential for weaponization in the wrong hands. In recent months, Mark Zuckerberg has had to contend with accusation ranging from the triggering social unrest, election of a president and even possible genocide.
Here are some of the most extreme charges thrown at the social media giant this year (and it’s only March):
Rohingya Crisis – Burma (Myanmar)
“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast,” said UN special rapporteur for Myanmar Yanghee Lee on Tuesday.
The United Nations has singled out the platform for its “determining role” in the ongoing Rohingya crisis, which has seen almost 700,000 refugees flee the country into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The military crackdown taking place in Rakhine State is being driven by the fuel of strong anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment that is prevalent in Buddhist-majority Burma. This Buddhist-nationalist sentiment is broadcast and amplified by none other than Facebook.
“It (Facebook) has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that,” chairman of the UN fact-finding mission Marzuki Darusman, told reporters.
“As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.”
Facebook has attempted to stem the flow of hate speech in the country by removing the page of prominent Buddhist nationalists. But the reach goes much further than firebrand activists, with the government itself using the platform as part of a major public relations drive aimed at winning public support and peddling anti-Rohingya rhetoric.
Alarmingly detailed accounts of clashes and atrocities have appeared on the account of “Information Committee,” the account of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s office. Analysts have said these are inflaming public sentiment and putting the lives of foreign aid workers at risk.
Duterte vs critics – Philippines
Social media, and predominantly Facebook, has been dubbed President Rodrigo Duterte’s most powerful weapon. Not only can it be credited with facilitating his election victory, but also with helping him oust opponents and shutdown critical media.
After developing a Facebook-savvy army of supporters – named the Duterte Die-Hard Supporters, or simply DDS – to spread his campaign pledges and fight dirty to get their man elected, Duterte then integrated some of those divisive figures in his administration. Once inside the Malacañang Palace, they were put to work taking down opponents, according to Rappler editor Maria Ressa.
Imprisoned Senator Leila de Lima – an Amnesty International Human Rights Defenders Under Threat and vocal Duterte critic – became the victim of a targeted online campaign uncovered by Rappler.
It wasn’t long after the #ArrestLeilaDeLima campaign went viral that the senator was taken into custody on drug charges she strongly denies.
The so-called “patriotic trolling” by the DDS continues today. You only need look at the comments section of any report that shows Duterte in a negative light to see the level of vitriol banded around. While many of it is from genuine supporters, Duterte has himself admitted that he paid trolls while campaigning.
Another target for social media abuse was digital news organisation Rappler who had their registraion revoked in January over allegations it had breached mass media and foreign-ownership laws. For months leading to the decision, Duterte supporters attacked the media organisation online.
Duterte’s campaign for social media domination was so effective it even won him the title “King of Facebook” after the company discovered he was the subject of 64 percent of all Philippine election-related conversations on the site.
Kandy Riots – Sri Lanka
A Facebook team met with the Sri Lankan prime minister on Thursday after his government accused the social media platform of failing to control rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots that left three people dead and the country under a state of emergency.
During the violence, the government took the unprecedented step of blocking the app across the country, fearing incendiary content would incite further damage.
“This whole country could have been burning in hours,” telecommunications minister Harin Fernando told the Guardian.
One example of hate speech used by Fernando was that of a tweet that claimed to have reported an offensive post to Facebook saying: “Kill all Muslims, don’t even let an infant of the dogs escape.”
This is the problem. I got a response to my #HateSpeech report after 6 days. According to @Facebook, this post is not violating their Hate Speech Policy.@fernandoharin @RW_UNP @HarshadeSilvaMP#lka #Digana #Kandy #SocialMediaBan pic.twitter.com/EIJh8bpx0k
— Dumi Jay (@dumindaxsb) March 13, 2018
The response he received from Facebook – after six days – said the post did not violate their hate speech policy and remained on the site.
Analyst Sanjana Hattotuwa from the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo told the Guardian that, while the phenomenon was not exclusive to Sri Lanka, in a region with a recent history of political and social unrest, a tool like Facebook “serves to seep into those cracks,” further exacerbating differences.