Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Nearly 150,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar for Bangladesh in recent weeks, fleeing persecution that has gone on for decades since they were declared non-citizens in Myanmar in 1982. (Photo: Prachatai/Flick/cc)

Exposing Problematic Role as News Arbiter, Facebook Under Fire Over Myanmar

Rohingya activists report being banned by the social media site for reporting on atrocities in Myanmar

Julia Conley

Illustrating the outsize and controversial role it now plays in disseminating news and regulating information across the world, social media giant Facebook is under fire this week after human rights activists and journalists accused it of censoring posts about the ongoing crisis, including charges of "ethnic cleansing," now taking place in Myanmar.

The company's decision to label a Rohingya armed group a "dangerous organization" came amid an international outcry against Myanmar's government and military, which has been accused of orchestrating an "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that's often called the most persecuted minority group in the world. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, and 146,000 have traveled to Bangladesh as refugees in recent weeks. Satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch last week has shown the group's villages burned.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has coordinated attacks against police outposts in Myanmar—in defense of the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar's Rakhine state, it says. This week, after Facebook designated the group as dangerous, it deleted posts by ARSA as well as by journalists who wrote on the social media site about the crisis, saying such posts violate its community standards prohibiting violent content.

"We are only removing graphic content when it is shared to celebrate the violence, versus raising awareness and condemning the action," a Facebook spokeswoman, Ruchika Budhraja, said in a statement to The Guardian.

But journalists and activists say their posts, which were aimed at drawing attention to the crisis, have been singled out by Facebook.

Rohingya activist Mohammed Rafique, told The Guardian that he was temporarily banned from the site for posting "photos and videos of torture and killings in the Rohingya villages."

Jafar Arakane, a Rohingya refugee, also had his account suspended after posting news about the crisis on his YouTube channel's Facebook page.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, responded on Twitter to Facebook's statement about its process for deleting content.

Meanwhile, other groups involved in the crisis in Myanmar have not been challenged by Facebook in the same way—namely, Myanmar's military, which has an active verified page on the social media site, suggesting that its long history of persecuting the Rohingya has not earned it Facebook's "dangerous organization" label.

Last year, as Common Dreams reported, Facebook was called on by more than 70 organizations to clarify its position on censorship of content, especially as it concerned human rights.

Author J.M. Berger, who has studied extremism and social media, suggested that while Facebook is most likely not taking sides in the conflict between the Rohingya and their oppressors, its targeting of Rohingya groups and activists may point to a bias in Facebook's algorithms against Muslim groups.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·

'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·

To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·

Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·

Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo