Facebook is coming down hard on pages and accounts that spread hate speech and misinformation in respond to strong criticism over their failure to control such malicious posts in the past. Specifically, the social media conglomerate has removed hundreds of pages and accounts in Myanmar with hidden links to the military – that’s 425 pages, 17 groups, and 135 accounts on Facebook and 15 Instagram accounts. One of these pages even had as many as 2.5 million followers.
The deleted accounts were posing as independent news, entertainment, beauty and lifestyle pages with names like ‘Down for Anything’, ‘Let’s Laugh Causally’, and ‘We Love Myanmar’ but in reality were linked to the military and pages that had already been removed in the past which have been identified for spreading misleading and dehumanising content about the stateless Rohingya group. The Rohingya's were driven out of Myanmar in the tens of thousands by the military earlier last year.
This round of take-downs of pages and accounts is the third wave, following deletions in August and October of what the company calls ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’ in Myanmar. In a statement, Facebook says that they do not want people or organisations to create networks of accounts solely to mislead others about who they are and what they’re doing.
Among users that have been blacklisted this year include hardline nationalist monks and top army generals who have been accused by the UN investigators of genocide.
Facebook’s reputation has come under heavy fire these past few years for it’s despairingly slow removal of hate speech from the platform. An independent report commissioned by the social media giants concluded that while Myanmar state was ultimately responsible for human rights abuses, the company should have been more active in preventing the platform from being used to incite violence and form divisions.
So now, Facebook is trying hard to earn back the trust of the people. Facebook have vowed to hire more Myanmar-language reviewers by the end of the year to bring their staff up to 100. However, critics argue that a staff that size won’t be nearly enough to monitor the over 20 million Facebook accounts based in Myanmar, especially since many use a mixture of regional languages as well. Also, the upcoming 2020 elections in Myanmar will surely be a flashpoint for misinformation and abuse and Facebook will need to be ready to deal with an influx of inauthentic content.
Smartphone usage in the Southeast Asian country, and therefore internet presence, has soared in the last few years after Myanmar opened up to the outside world following decades of isolated military rule. Facebook will have to double down their efforts if they are truly interested in preventing the platform being used as a means to spread hate and violence.