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The Burmese monk rallying vigilantes on Facebook

As crises of weaponized misinformation spread to more countries, it often falls to journalists to pla
December 8 · Issue #43 · View online
The Interface
As crises of weaponized misinformation spread to more countries, it often falls to journalists to play beat cop. The Washington Post went to Burma to write about its humanitarian crisis, in which the government is persecuting the Muslim Rohingya minority.
Misinformation is spreading virally, and Facebook is doing little about it. As the Post says: “Misinformation does not qualify for removal on its own right but can be removed if it is particularly obscene or contains threats.”
But the Post also found that some religious leaders are using Facebook to incite violence: 
One of those monks is Thu Seikta. In a monastery in central Rangoon, Burma’s former capital and largest city, Seikta pulled out a silver tablet and swiped through its applications. Nearby, two junior monks poised with their phones, filming visitors in the hushed, wood-paneled hall. Cats snoozed on sacks of rice.
Seikta knows well that Facebook isn’t just a place to share ideas but to mobilize followers, too. Last April, he advertised a rally he was organizing outside the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon against the State Department’s use of the term Rohingya and subsequently called for volunteers to intimidate Muslim shopkeepers who work near the golden-domed Shwedagon Pagoda.
That monk’s account is only now being “evaluated,” the company told the reporters. And in the meantime, his word travels far — and fast. Facebook brought the internet to Burma through its Free Basics program, and Free Basics now is the internet for many Burmese citizens:
Information-age Burma is defined by Facebook: More people have access to Facebook than have regular electricity in their homes. A recent study found that 38 percent of Facebook users in Burma got most, if not all, of their news on the site. And news feeds in Burma are rife with anti-Rohingya posts, shared not only by ordinary people but also by senior military officers and the spokesman for Burma’s de facto leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
Max Fisher had a good Twitter thread recently about how these panics spread before Facebook — it happened all the time. Facebook is the site of the current surge of misinformation, he tweeted, not its cause. 
And yet all week we’ve been reading about the unintended consequences of its platform: in Poland, in the Philippines, in Burma. Almost every day, I read about how Facebook is changing the conversation inside another country. And when it comes to politics, it’s unclear that Facebook is changing any of them for the better. 

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