Last week, Facebook released a “corporate human rights policy,” eight years after learning that its platform was being used in Myanmar to spread hatred which ultimately culminated in the violent displacement of 750,000 Rohingya Muslims. In its announcement, the company recycled a common talking point on its past involvement in human rights abuses. Facebook’s Human Rights Director wrote,
“There is no question that we, and other social media and tech companies, have been slow to recognize and address their adverse human rights impacts.”
That is a gross understatement.
Facebook is not a passive actor. It executed a years-long effort to promote the global adoption of its technology, devoted few resources to monitoring its social effects, and ignored numerous warnings from human rights activists. In this post, I focus specifically on Facebook’s role in the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, an especially egregious—but nowhere near exhaustive—example of how the company contributed to serious human rights abuses and potential international crimes. Facebook’s human rights failures are attributable to economic incentives that will not change as a result of one policy statement. The only way to hold the company accountable is through regulatory schemes that increase the cost of contributing to human rights violations.
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