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Hardline monks in Burma vow to stay on Facebook despite ban

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken on 28 March 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s hardline monks will dodge bans on Facebook and keep using the social media giant to “tell the truth,” they said on Friday, after it barred several Buddhist nationalists for hate messages targeting Rohingya Muslims.

United Nations officials investigating a possible genocide in Burma have said Facebook had been a source of propaganda against the minority in a country where it has become a near-ubiquitous communications tool as the economy opens up.

Burma’s nationalist monks and activists, who have emerged as a political force in recent years, have been sharing violent and angry rhetoric on Facebook targeting the minority, seen by many in the Buddhist-majority country as illegal immigrants.

“It is a violation of freedom of expression,” Thuseitta, a member of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks’ Union told Reuters hours after Facebook identified him as a “hate figure.”

“We will keep using Facebook with different names and accounts to tell the truth to people.”

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, the United Nations and aid agencies have said, following an army crackdown after Rohingya insurgent attacks last August.

Washington has called the army response “ethnic cleansing” — a charge Burma denies, saying its security forces have been waging a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against “Bengali terrorists.”

Pinnyawenta, another monk from the union whose account was deactivated in May after repeatedly being asked by Facebook to remove some posts, said he had registered again under another name and would “continue to write about the truth” on the site.

In an email message on Friday, Facebook told Reuters it was “investing more in the teams who are working on Myanmar” as it seeks to “understand and respond to Myanmar’s unique technical challenges.”

The California-based company will invest more in artificial intelligence to deal with languages in Burma, it said.

Facebook added that it had designated as “hate figures and organizations” a radical Buddhist group, Ma Ba Tha, and several prominent monks known for vitriol toward Rohingya, blocking them from the platform.

The move had led to the removal of “a lot of harmful and violating content,” it said.

Ei Myat Noe Khin, a manager of Yangon-based Phandeeyar, which helped Facebook translate its Burmese-language community standards, urged the company to hire more people who are unbiased and understand Burma well.

That would be the only way for Facebook to tackle the proliferating accounts behind the rumours spread to trigger violence, riots and conflict, she added.

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