Meta in Myanmar, Part I: The Setup
The harms Meta passively and actively fueled destroyed or ended hundreds of thousands of lives that might have been yours or mine, but for accidents of birth. I say “hundreds of thousands” because “millions” sounds unbelievable, but by the end of my research I came to believe that the actual number is very, very large.
Facebook played what the lead investigator on the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (hereafter just “the UN Mission”) [called a “determining role”](https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-facebook/u-n-investigators-cite-facebook-role-in-myanmar-crisis-idUSKCN1GO2PN) in the bloody emergence of what would become the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.(https://erinkissane.com/meta-in-myanmar-part-i-the-setup#footnote-2Z0N)
My big hope for the internet is that we handle the shit we need to handle to make sturdier, less poisoned/poisonous ways to connect and collaborate in the gnarly-looking decades ahead. I think that’s not just *possible*, but that it’s our responsibility to work toward it. Also, I’m pretty sure that despite the best intentions and the most transparent processes, we risk doing enormous harm if we don’t learn from the past. (Maybe even if we do.)
As the violence in Mandalay worsens, the head of Deloitte in Myanmar gets an urgent call. Zaw Htay, the official spokesman of Myanmar’s president, needs help reaching Meta. The Deloitte executive works into the night trying to get someone to respond, but never gets through. On the third day of rioting, the government gets tired of waiting and blocks access to Facebook in Mandalay. The block works—the riots died down. And the Deloitte guy’s inbox suddenly fills with emails from Meta staffers wanting to know why Facebook has been blocked.(https://erinkissane.com/meta-in-myanmar-part-i-the-setup#footnote-51Z0N)
To sum up a little bit, by the end of 2015, Meta knew—as much as any organization can be said to *know*—that both international civil society experts *and the government of Myanmar* believe Facebook had a significant role in the 2014 Mandalay riots.
And they’d been warned, over and over, that multiple dedicated civil-society and human-rights organizations believed that Facebook was worsening ethnic conflict.
They’d been shown example after example of dehumanizing posts and comments calling for mass murder, even explicitly calling for genocide. And David Madden had told Meta staff to their faces that *Facebook might well play the role in Myanmar that radio played in Rwanda*. Nothing was subtle.