5 April 2018
We listened to your Vox interview with great interest and were glad to hear of your personal concern and engagement with the situation in Myanmar.
As representatives of Myanmar civil society organizations and the people who raised the Facebook Messenger threat to your team’s attention, we were surprised to hear you use this case to praise the effectiveness of your ‘systems’ in the context of Myanmar. From where we stand, this case exemplifies the very opposite of effective moderation: it reveals an over-reliance on third parties, a lack of a proper mechanism for emergency escalation, a reticence to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions and a lack of transparency.
Far from being an isolated incident, this case further epitomizes the kind of issues that have been rife on Facebook in Myanmar for more than four years now and the inadequate response of the Facebook team. It is therefore instructive to examine this Facebook Messenger incident in more detail, particularly given your personal engagement with the case.
The messages (pictured and translated below) were clear examples of your tools being used to incite real harm. Far from being stopped, they spread in an unprecedented way, reaching country-wide and causing widespread fear and at least three violent incidents in the process. The fact that there was no bloodshed is testament to our community’s resilience and to the wonderful work of peacebuilding and interfaith organisations. This resilience, however, is eroding daily as our community continues to be exposed to virulent hate speech and vicious rumours, which Facebook is still not adequately addressing.
Over-reliance on third parties In your interview, you refer to your detection ‘systems’. We believe your system, in this case, was us – and we were far from systematic. We identified the messages and escalated them to your team via email on Saturday the 9th September, Myanmar time. By then, the messages had already been circulating widely for three days. The Messenger platform (at least in Myanmar) does not provide a reporting function, which would have enabled concerned individuals to flag the messages to you. Though these dangerous messages were deliberately pushed to large numbers of people – many people who received them say they did not personally know the sender – your team did not seem to have picked up on the pattern. For all of your data, it would seem that it was our personal connection with senior members of your team which led to the issue being dealt with.