Saturday, August 19, 2017

Facebook takes steps to combat hate speech

Facebook will speed up the translation of its community standards and guidelines into Myanmar language, an official said at a seminar in Yangon on Sunday, in an effort to combat online hate speech following deadly unrest in Mandalay earlier this month.

Mia Garlick, head of policy and communications for Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said that the social media giant is speeding up a translation of its policy, which bans the use of hate speech on the site. An estimated completion date was not given.

Facebook’s terms and conditions warn users not to “credibly threaten others or organise acts of real-world violence” and the company urges users to report posts that could be deemed hate speech, but the policy is currently not available in Myanmar language. There are about 2 million Facebook users in Myanmar, according to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Officials from Facebook were in contact with Nay Pyi Taw earlier this month to discuss strategies for combating hate speech after reports of a rape circulated on the social media were blamed for stoking tensions in Mandalay. These tensions eventually turned violent: Two men were later killed by unknown attackers, while almost 20 people were injured.

The report was initially published on the website Thit Htoo Lwin and then shared on social media. State media reported on July 20 that the story of the rape had been fabricated.

Ms Garlick spoke at the July 20 event along with officials from Google, the Asia Foundation and accounting firm Deloitte at a seminar organised by the President’s Office to promote responsible social media use.

Minister for Communications and Information Technology U Myat Hein said fewer than five percent of people in Myanmar are connected to the internet but unrestricted access – Myanmar has among the least online censorship in the region – had exposed the country to the “dark side” of the web.

He added that incidents of unrest in which social media has played a factor “increasingly threaten” Myanmar’s stability.

Despite this warning, government officials reiterated on July 20 that Nay Pyi Taw would not play a central role in curbing online hate speech. They said it is instead the responsibility of internet users, who should use online platforms responsibly, and members of the online community, who must understand and use safeguards set up by sites like

Facebook and YouTube, which is owned by Google, to flag suspicious or hateful content.

U Than Tun Aung, a director from the ministry’s Posts and Telecommunications Department, said people need to better comprehend the potential consequences of posting hate speech online.

“[Posting online] is different from talking at the tea shop,” he said.

The government’s pledge to remain hands-off comes just weeks after Facebook was blocked in the city on Mandalay on July 3 and July 4. The site remained accessible when using a proxy server, however, indicating that it had been made intentionally inaccessible for users inside Myanmar. The government has not formally confirmed that it was behind the blockage.

The decision against increased online intervention will likely be welcomed by those within the tech industry, who feared that the government could revert to censorship in an attempt to curb incendiary comments online.