Myanmar activists welcome Zuckerberg’s 24-hour target to block hate speech on Facebook

Updated 13 April 2018
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Myanmar activists welcome Zuckerberg’s 24-hour target to block hate speech on Facebook

  • Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh
  • Facebook is hiring dozens more Burmese-language speakers to remove threatening content.

WASHINGTON/YANGON: Myanmar civil society groups welcomed a commitment by Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to tackle hate speech within 24 hours as the social media giant fights messages inciting violence, but urged it to deploy more resources in the country.

Zuckerberg said on Tuesday his company would step up efforts to block hate messages in Myanmar as he faced questioning by the US Congress about electoral interference and hate speech on the platform.

Facebook has been accused by human rights advocates of not doing enough to weed out hate messages on its social-media network in Myanmar, where it has become a near-ubiquitous communications tool following the opening up of the economy.

In an email, the representatives of several civil society groups in Myanmar hailed the 24-hour timeline as “historic,” but said Facebook had failed to set up an effective mechanism in the country for swifter detection and removal of threatening posts.

“This is a historic commitment from Facebook to a 24-hour review time, and one we have been begging for,” Yangon-based social media analyst Victoire Rio said on Wednesday.

“It is still unclear how they intend to demonstrate that they are meeting these targets ... We will continue to monitor them,” said Rio, who was involved in an email exchange between Zuckerberg and civil society groups in Myanmar regarding Facebook’s effectiveness in detecting and curbing hate speech.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.

The UN and the US described the situation as ethnic cleansing, an accusation Myanmar denies.

“What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” Zuckerberg said during a 5-hour joint hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee.

UN officials investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar said last month that Facebook had been a source of anti-Rohingya propaganda.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in March that social media had played a “determining role” in Myanmar.

“It has ... substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict ... within the public,” he said.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was hiring dozens more Burmese-language speakers to remove threatening content.

“It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language, and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically,” he said, adding that Facebook was also asking civil society groups to help identify figures the network needed to ban.

He said a Facebook team would make undisclosed product changes in Myanmar and other countries battling ethnic violence.

But Jes Petersen, chief executive of Yangon-based Phandeeyar, which helped Facebook translate its Burmese-language community standards, said Zuckerberg’s commitment would be too little for a country with nearly 30 million users.

“It is not even close. It will be interesting to see how Facebook meet their 24-hour commitment here — but a mammoth expansion of Burmese-speaking staff is going to be needed.”


7D News looks to add new dimension to Middle East affairs

Updated 24 April 2018
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7D News looks to add new dimension to Middle East affairs

LONDON: Do you have a camel at home? Is there an oil wheel in your garden? These are some of the least-informed questions that Dr. Ali Rashid Al-Nuaimi, editor-in-chief of the new media platform 7D News, has encountered on visits to the West.
Al-Nuaimi, a UAE national and member of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi, said he spotted a gap in the online media market for an outlet “that is a force for good, not just reportage.”
This begins with unpicking stereotypes about the Middle East, Al-Nuaimi said during an interview at the 7D News launch party in London on Thursday.
“What people here in the West know about the Arab world is terrorism, wars, discrimination against women … we want to change it,” he said.
Serving up daily news blasts complemented by background pieces that aim to show “the stories behind the headlines,” as the news service’s slogan reads, the site plans to provide a fresh perspective on the region, beginning with coverage showcasing the “achievements of the UAE.”
Al-Nuaimi said that the London-based news site — which is owned by Emirates Media and Research — was initially envisioned as an Arabic platform.
But Al-Nuaimi decided that English had a more international reach, and said the site will be completely impartial. “There won’t be any no-go areas,” he said.
Basing the site out of London, with reporters in cities around the world, he hopes to have a global impact by targeting an “elite audience” of readers and viewers with the scope to “impact their community.”
This means politicians, public figures, community leaders — those in a position to make a difference, Al-Nuaimi said. Issues including tolerance, integration, extremism and peace-building will be high on the agenda, with a focus on spotlighting leaders contributing to their community.
“I came from a background where I saw the added value of media in countering extremism,” he said.
“We want to look into news, incidents, events with angles that bring people together (rather than) dividing them, bridging the gaps between different cultures, different religions. I think this is a vacuum that needs to be filled.”
Humaira Patel, a reporter who recently joined the 7D team said the platform will feature “news that brings out the best.”
“I think 7D will be different,” she said.