Facebook finally admits it didn’t do enough

Both Facebook the company and Mark Zuckerberg have promoted the social network as a tool for positive community, designed to bring people together, but over the last few years we’ve seen a darker side to that always-on human connection.

Analysts have been sounding the alarm for months over Facebook’s role in Myanmar, where United Nations humans rights experts believe the company played a key role in a possible genocide

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh due to insurgent attacks, but Facebook played a key role in mass distribution of misinformation that was left unchecked. 

The New York Times says that the country struggled with coming online, and its people were not equipped to understand that what they are seeing might be fabricated. Facebook largely remained quiet about the issues, but later commissioned an independent report, of which the results were dumped online just hours before the midterm elections officially started.

Facebook’s own announcement puts it like this:

The report concludes that, prior to this year, we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and should do more.

The report largely says what the U.N. officials already asserted earlier in 2018: Facebook tried to stay hands-off as a crisis unfolded on its platform, and it is largely responsible for what unfolded in the country. It recommends that Facebook creates a human rights policy and communicate openly about how it’s doing, which the company is open to doing, but cagey about how or when.

Until recently, Facebook didn’t have any employees in Myanmar, using an external contractor to perform moderation in the country only after it emerged that nobody on the company’s operations teams could understand local context enough to interpret how bad it was.

For most online users in Myanmar, the internet is synonymous with Facebook thanks to its free basics program, which provided free limited internet access to residents until it quietly ended earlier this year

They don’t know about the wider internet, largely thanks to Facebook’s own actions. The report warns this may be a problem for Facebook in the long run, particularly given there’s a general election in 2020.

Therein lies the problem: Facebook has been incredibly slow to react to any of these types of issues that have emerged, even with external agencies urging them to pay attention. Will it make serious changes, or just lip service? 

Given that Facebook is still struggling even on its home turf in the US, it’s unlikely to solve that question anytime soon, without some sort of external intervention.

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