Mass Atrocities in the Digital Era (MADE) Working Paper #5, Genocide Studies Program, Yale University
Criticism of Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide largely focuses on anti-Rohingya speech. But content targeting and shaming members of the in-group – like calling people traitors for showing empathy for the Rohingya – also played a significant role. Facebook allowed threats and shaming to reach a national audience, making the consequences of speaking out clear to everyone.
We call this hallmark of dangerous speech, “Questioning In-Group Loyalty”. You can learn more about this and other hallmarks in our Practical Guide.
For the broad public increasingly critical of technology companies, the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar has come to illustrate the evils of Facebook and its parent company, Meta. At the same time, the Myanmar case has become an influential template for understanding the dangers of social media, past, present, and future, as well as developing solutions. Yet this template is strikingly narrow: it has been limited to content that negatively characterizes the victim group, such as through hate speech and misinformation. As a result, most extant analysis has excluded other processes that scholarship on genocide has also shown to be significant: practices aimed at constructing not the victims of genocide but those who are supposed to support it. This paper therefore analyzes some of these practices as they involved Facebook in Myanmar, offering new interpretations of publicly available evidence and drawing on observations from work in Myanmar during 2012-15. It then concludes by discussing the relevance of these initial findings for ongoing efforts to pursue restitution and accountability and proposes concrete questions that could be taken up in these efforts as well as by scholars and practitioners.
Matt Schissler is a Visiting Fellow, Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University & Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan.