Facebook has played a role in spreading hate speech in Myanmar, UN human rights experts investigating a possible genocide against Rohingya Muslims said.
- Facebook is widely used in Myanmar
- UN investigators claim hatred against Rohingya stirred online
- Government in Sri Lanka blocked social media to stop latest communal violence
Facebook had no immediate comment on the criticism, although in the past the company has said that it was working to remove hate speech in Myanmar and kick off people who shared such content consistently.
More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August.
Many have provided harrowing testimonies of executions and rapes by Myanmar security forces.
The UN human rights chief said last week he strongly suspected acts of genocide had taken place, while Myanmar's national security adviser demanded "clear evidence".
Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters that social media had played a "determining role" in Myanmar.
"[Social media] has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissention and conflict, if you will, within the public … Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that," he said.
"As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media."
'Facebook has turned into a beast'
UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said Facebook was a huge part of public, civil and private life, and the government used it to disseminate information to the public.
"Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar," she told reporters, adding it had helped the impoverished country but had also been used to spread hate speech.
"[Facebook] was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities," she said.
"I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended."
The most prominent of Myanmar's hard-line nationalist monks, Wirathu, emerged from a one-year preaching ban on Saturday and said his anti-Muslim rhetoric had nothing to do with violence in Rakhine state.
Facebook suspends and sometimes removes anyone that consistently shares content promoting hate, the company said last month in response to a question about Wirathu's account.
"If a person consistently shares content promoting hate, we may take a range of actions such as temporarily suspending their ability to post and, ultimately, removal of their account."
Facebook's link to violence spread beyond Myanmar
Last week, Sri Lanka barred social messaging networks including Facebook following violence against minority Muslims.
The Government moved to block social messaging networks to halt the bloodshed after a police curfew failed to stop devastating communal violence that continued even after President Maithripala Sirisena decreed an emergency for seven days to contain the situation.
The South Asian country was rocked by communal clashes in its central highlands following attacks on Muslims by nationalist Sinhalese crowds.
Communal tensions have grown in Sri Lanka over the past year with some hard-line Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites. Muslim groups deny these allegations.
Some of the violence has been instigated by Facebook postings that threatened more attacks on Muslims, the Sri Lankan Government said before blocking Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp across the country for three days.
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, said it was working to identify and remove incitements to violence, and was in contact with the government and private organisations.
"We have clear rules against hate speech and incitement to violence and work hard to keep it off our platform," the social network said in a statement.