Facebook itself popped into Myanmar users’ newsfeeds yesterday with localised illustrations and reminders on how to act online, as part of a push to promote translated community standards that ban behaviours such as bullying and hate speech.
The site’s community standards are used to measure reported content which, if found abusive, can be taken down.
“We see that Facebook is increasingly becoming part of people’s lives in Myanmar,” said Facebook Asia Pacific policy director Mia Garlick. She said Facebook wanted to create “an environment where people can share responsibly in a safe and effective manner”.
Facebook has established a significant footprint in Myanmar that goes beyond its user base. The site recently rolled out the country’s first sticker set from the Panzagar “flower speech” campaign and Joosk illustrators that combats hate speech and urges users not to start fires online. The site also teamed with Save the Children in Myanmar to raise money in response to recent flooding by supporting grassroots campaigns on the social network, according to Ms Garlick.
The country’s most popular site, according to a recent survey by Opera Software of Myanmar customers using its Mini browser, Facebook has become a major outlet for both news and rumours. A favoured tool of the government, it was recently used to assure the public that Speaker of parliament Thura U Shwe Mann was back at his desk after an internal party purge, while presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut has earned the moniker “Minister of Facebook”.
But the site’s short history in Myanmar has also been marked by complaints that users have propagated hate speech.
As previously reported by The Myanmar Times, communal violence erupted in Mandalay in July 2014 after false allegations that two Muslim teashop owners had raped a Buddhist girl began to circulate online, picking up steam after posts were shared on Facebook by “969” leader and hard-line nationalist monk U Wirathu. He currently has over 94,000 followers on Facebook.
Two people died in the Mandalay unrest. An outage of the site was reportedly ordered by government.
In Facebook’s Government Requests Report, the company said that between July and December of 2014 a handful of content items were restricted in Myanmar.
“We restricted access to five pieces of content reported by the President’s Office citing sections 295(A), 298, 504, and 505 of the Myanmar Penal Code, which covers ‘Acts or words which intentionally cause outrage or wound religious feelings’ and ‘Statements or insults which intentionally provokes a breach of the peace or cause public mischief,’” the report said.
The platform’s global community standards empower Facebook to take down hate speech, which it says attacks people on the basis of race; ethnicity; national origin; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; sex, gender or gender identity; or serious disabilities or diseases.
Previously, the site’s community standards – which also outlaw certain threats and harassment – were not widely available in Myanmar language, Ms Garlick said. Now, they are accessible for Myanmar people in their language, accompanied by illustrations with a character that Ms Garlick said reminds them of a well-loved local toy, Po Wa Yote.
Facebook collaborated with innovation lab Phandeeyar and Joosk illustrators to create the illustrated, localised community standards.
Surveys the groups conducted indicated people thought of Po Wa Yote as a good friend, and helpful, according to Ms Garlick.
“The important thing with making the community standards available is to really help people understand that these are the rules that apply on Facebook,” she said.
Those rules do not vary from place to place, although access to some posts could get restricted if they violate local law, she said.
Messages to users will come across in part through promoted posts for Myanmar people, and could nudge users to think twice before sharing.
“We want to make sure people think about those rules and what they’re sharing online,” Ms Garlick said.