From online hate to offline crime: Facebook’s role in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

From online hate to offline crime: Facebook’s role in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

Facebook is a giant. It is not only the probably best known social media platform of the world, it is also a corporation that owns services such as WhatsApp or Instagram. Being such an online imperium acting worldwide, Facebook is powerful. And it faces many pitfalls, for example regarding data security, hate speech, different local laws and censorship. In this series, I will examine Facebook’s not always glorious role in development, conflict and crisis around the world.

The Rohingya crisis – the conflict between Buddhists and a Muslim minority in the Rakhine state in Myanmar – which caused a mass exodus in 2017 is widely known. The international media has been producing stories about the refugees arriving in Bangladesh, about the conflict itself and about Human Rights and press freedom in Myanmar. Nevertheless, it took some time for the world to figure out the factors that made this centuries-old conflict escalate that extremely in 2012 and again in 2017. One of those factors is Facebook. After living in a military dictatorship isolated from the rest of the world for years, the Myanmar people gained access to mobile phones, the world wide web and Facebook in an unusual pace. A mix of digital illiteracy, long-lasting conflict in an ethnically diverse country and the dynamics of Facebook lead to what we now know as “the Rohingya crisis”.

I tried to summarize the development in an interactive timeline. It is not comprehensive and many more events and developments would be worth to name. But it gives an impression about the connections between digital development and conflict in Myanmar.

Click the picture to get to the interactive timeline.

Most of the content and data in the timeline is derived from the following sources, which are recommended readings on the topic:

One comment

  1. Well written! It is good to see that there are recommended readings on this topic. I would like to share some ideas about this. Religion is not a new area of debate. The debates and conflicts about religion were present long before the Web 2.0. Although Facebook’s ideal is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”, social media platforms can work two controversial ways in the context of debates on religion. Online participation can accelerate the emotions such as envy and hate, or it can alleviate them. In this case, the 2017 persecution in Rohingya paved the way for the genocide and ethnic cleansing. As far as I remember, the UN also declared this persecution as “an example of ethnic cleansing”. I believe that social media can be used as a tool for strengthening solidarity. This can be both for support or/and hate. It depends on the people and their purpose. We should not forget that social media platforms has the effect of rapidly augmenting solidarity. I do not believe that such actions can be eliminated. However, it can be monitored and effective ways of precautions can be taken

    Aylin Karaarslan

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