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Myanmar’s Facebook-fueled Genocide: How Social Media Feeds Intolerance

Sun, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton, Embassy

Abstract

Since its emergence social media has been credited with bringing people together. Facebook in particular was credited with sparking the people power revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet, recent events have illustrated how social media, especially Facebook, can be used to exacerbate divisions and promote political violence through the dissemination of fake news and hate speech. This is especially evident in Myanmar where internet access has exploded from less than 1% in 2001 to more than 25% in 2017 (ITU 2018), and nearly 40% of the population lists Facebook as their primary source for news (IPI 2017). While increased access to the internet and social media is generally viewed as a sign of increasing political openness, there are signs that the online media have been used strategically for sinister purposes. In 2018 reports emerged that Myanmar’s military used a Facebook campaign to promote genocidal violence against the Rohingya and encourage forced migration. In this study we develop and conduct a survey to investigate the effects of internet access, and in particular how access and exposure to Facebook influence public perception of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. We hypothesize that Facebook exposure will serve to strengthen existing perceptions about the Rohingya as people seek information sources that are in accordance with their views. Our findings will have implications beyond Myanmar as Facebook and other social media companies seek to increase their reach in the developing world.

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