Update on Hate Speech in Myanmar

fFacebook has posted an update on efforts to control hate speech in Myanmar.

The company has been criticized for years for its slow response in Myanmar to hate speech targeting the Rohingya minority. According to the United Nations, Facebook played “a determining factor” in the genocide and forced migration last fall of 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.

Facebook now elaborates on many steps it has taken to address hate speech in Myanmar, including:

  • hiring more Burmese language content editors
  • making reporting tools easier to use
  • improving AI systems to flag questionable content
  • better coordination with civil society groups
  • building digital literacy programs for users
  • updating content policies
  • banning a number of users
  • increasing the use of unicode-compliant fonts
  • hiring third party auditors

By Facebook’s own accounting, the company is catching much more hate content for prompt removal.

Given that Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar have been variously described by civil society groups there as insufficient and secretive, the company’s new blog post taking responsibility for its actions and citing specific steps it is taking is encouraging and commendable.

Simultaneously, however, Reuters has released a new, mostly scathing¬†investigative report on Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar. The detailed analysis finds over 1000 posts, comments, and graphic images online targeting the Rohingya, some as old as six years.

Reuters researchers tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to report hateful content to Facebook. The Reuters analysis also pointed to many technical shortcomings of Facebook systems. In one glaring example of how the Burmese to English translation engine falls short, Reuters reports that a Burmese comment reading “Kill all the kalars you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive” is translated to English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”

So in competing reports, Facebook says it is doing a lot with respect to Myanmar and making solid progress. Reuters reports that Facebook is not doing nearly enough, and the situation is still very dangerous. Both views are undoubtedly true.

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