Facebook: A global monstrosity

By Conor Kelly

In recent years, the role of social media in our daily lives has become a key issue not only in terms of the standard generational complaint about phone usage but also because of how social media impacts our news, diet and life. One company, in particular, has dominated the world of controversy surrounding media usage, specifically for its moderation policy, and that company is Facebook.

Created in 2004 by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has emerged as one of the most popular social media sites in America, perhaps even the world. With an estimated two billion monthly users, the service is by far one of the most prolific and powerful forces in Silicon Valley. In 2018, the site itself was worth more than half a trillion dollars. Facebook is everywhere in America, dominating the current of social life. Sixty-nine percent of American adults in 2019 reported to Pew Research that they used the social media site, and of those adults, 74 percent said they use the service at least once a day. Facebook also benefits from a general popularity among numerous demographics, with two-thirds of women using the site compared to sixty-three percent of men. A majority of college graduates and high school graduates use Facebook, indicating that while there is some disparity among education demographics, Facebook reaches everyone. In the simplest of terms, Facebook is everywhere, no matter how much we try to ignore it.

This is why it is so concerning that Facebook has a complete lack of moderation, resulting in it stopping its own contributions to both domestic and global unrest. While Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress in October of this year, Zuckerberg failed to explain his policies on objectively false political ads, violent speech and privacy, but what was lacking from the questioning was Facebook’s role in assisting an outright genocide in Myanmar.

As of 2018, there were eighteen million people who use Facebook in Myanmar, resulting in at least thirty-five percent of the population receiving their information from Facebook in one way or another. Though Facebook had no office in Myanmar, its presence was certainly felt by the people living there, as the state’s military took advantage of the site’s inability to moderate itself, flooding Facebook with anti-Muslim propaganda. The military falsified so-called Muslim crimes and portrayed Islam as a threat to the status of the majority-Buddhist population. One Buddhist monk, a man by the name of Wirathu, was a major contributor to this frenzy of sectarian bigotry. He had amassed hundreds of thousands of followers before Facebook finally removed his account, but as the Times have pointed out, those who share his videos don’t get banned. Under the guise of claiming to be entertainment accounts, other accounts tied to the military gained a following that ranked in the millions.

These patterns were not just random occurrences, but rather, a part of a state-orchestrated attempt to commit genocide. In 2014, a riot broke out over a false allegation—spread on Facebook—that a Muslim shop owner had raped a Buddhist woman. When the shop owner was confronted, the police attempted to break up the confrontation, worsening the situation. The tension lead to open violence, resulting in one Muslim and one Buddhist being killed and 20 other people being injured. In the end, over 200,000 Rohingya people fled the country to escape the violence and persecution perpetrated by their own government. It is no wonder that the United Nations referred to the Rohingya as the most persecuted group in the world back in 2013. Despite all this, Facebook did very little, banning accounts only when they found it too bothersome to ignore the issue. In fact, leaders in Myanmar had little to no idea how to contact Facebook to address the massive misinformation campaign, because, as previously stated, they had no office in the country. Indeed, Facebook’s desire to profit from the increasingly lucrative and more open online market in Myanmar was prioritized as being far more important than the potential for sectarian violence as they failed to hire enough Burmese speakers to moderate new accounts and failed to consider what their service could do to the country.

While our concerns about privacy, bias and monopolies in America certainly are valid, we must remember one simple thing: we are not as disconnected from the world as we once were, and to make policy about social media in America is to make policy on a global scale. Facebook failed to consider its role in the world and hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes as a result. Some lost their lives as well. We can’t ignore these things any longer and we can’t restrict these issues surrounding social media as an American issue or a Western issue. It is a global issue, and it is high time we acted like it.

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. You can find his new work on The Progressive American newsletter.

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