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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Facebook helped fuel hate-campaign against Rohingyas

Bangladesh now host over 1.1 million Rohingyas after 700,000 fled Myanmar since August, 2018 when insurgents’ attack triggered a military crackdown, which the UN say constituted to ethnic cleansing. File Photo/Reuters
Here is how Facebook which dominates social media has failed the vulnerable communities, especially concerning the hate campaign and fake news against the Rohingyas and so-called illegal Muslim Bangalees in Assam.
The Facebook admin team has miserably failed to delete 93 percent of posts containing speech violating its own “Community Standards” home rules, a study claimed.
The biggest allegation comes from India, describing how Facebook failed to delete hundreds of memes, images, and posts targeting caste, LGBT, and religious minorities.
The posts demonized Rohingya Muslims, the minority group that had been targeted for persecution in Myanmar. The Bangla-speaking Muslims in the neighboring state of Assam, India were also victims of the wrath of ruling party henchmen.
Social media research unit Equality Labs found that 93 percent of the posts reported to Facebook that contained speech violating the organization's own rules remained on the platform.
Facebook has failed to halt the persecution of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh. Analysis by BuzzFeed News sheds new light on Facebook's failures on the Rohingya issue.
The United Nations calls Myanmar’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority a genocide and says Facebook has done little to tackle hate speech.
Lawmakers from the Arakan state of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority regularly posted hateful anti-Rohingya content on Facebook. In some cases, these explicitly called for violence preceding the atrocities since the military campaign of ethnic cleansing began in August 2017.
Posts by members of Rakhine state’s parliament compared Rohingya to dogs, adding that Muslim women were too ugly to rape, falsely stated that Rohingyas torched their own houses for a payout from NGOs and accused Muslims of seeking to become the dominant group in the state by having too many children.
As the Rohingya crisis worsened in Arakan, the analysis showed that Facebook took no action for months and years. The platform finally removed many posts after BuzzFeed News sent links to the concerned person on Facebook.
UN investigators in a damning report also took Facebook to task, describing it as a “useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate,” adding that the company’s response to concerns about its role had been “slow and ineffective.”
In Myanmar, Facebook admitted shortcomings — as elsewhere — after its policies were cited for exacerbating ethnic cleansing, and promised to reform its processes, by hiring more content moderators.
Hate campaign also targeted Bangla-speaking Muslims in the Indian state of Assam which went viral on Facebook, even as the country’s government launched a controversial program to crack down on people immigrating illegally from Bangladesh.
The report, titled “Megaphone for Hate,” released by Avaaz, a nonprofit social media activist network found serious failures of the popular social media platform Facebook.
Comments and posts that called Bangalee Muslims “pigs,” “terrorists,” “dogs,” “rapists,” and “criminals,” — seemingly in violation of Facebook’s standards on hate speech, showed the Avaaz review.
Facebook once prided itself as a largely neutral platform for content. But the company has devalued its status amid calls from the UN and other groups to take greater responsibility for what users post — especially involving calls for violence.
In response to Buzzfeed, a spokesperson for Facebook said: “The company respects and seeks to protect the rights of marginalized communities in India and elsewhere, and pointed to its rules against hate speech.”
Facebook said that it proactively deleted almost all problematic content on its platform before it’s reported, but hate speech is tougher to recognize because of linguistic and cultural context. But many fear it is too little, too late.
Equality Labs also says Facebook’s staff lacks the diversity that would enable it to moderate hate speech targeting minority groups.
Meanwhile, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated he hopes to move toward automating a substantial part of its content management process using artificial intelligence tools, a statement echoed by company officials in interviews with BuzzFeed News.
NGOs and free speech defenders say it’s tough to imagine that intelligent machines will produce the kind of linguistic and cultural understanding it will take to combat these forms of speech.

First published in the Bangla Tribune online on 27 November 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also a recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Islamists Challenges Secularism in Bangladesh

People have no jurisdiction to judge others on their religious views
Is this tolerance? Photo Credit: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN
A series of low-intensity violence on the issue of blasphemy was recently raised by radicalized Muslims against Hindus, Buddhists, and others, which is nothing new in Bangladesh.
If the violent behavior by the “lords of hate” is analyzed, it could be determined that these occurrences have an identical pattern of violence, as if those are woven in one string of hate against humanity.
In the fairly recent incident in Bhola in the coastal district, the acts of violence were instigated by rumormongers citing fake Facebook exchanges, which were deemed blasphemous only by the Islamic zealots.
Despite the distances from one occurrence to another, the typical pattern of violence has been observed in Barisal, Brahmanbaria, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Gaibandha, Gopalganj, Ramu, Rangpur, Santhia (Pabna), Satkhira, Sunamganj -- and the list appears to keep growing.
All the incidents falsely accused person(s) insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or Prophet Muhammad -- soon after, Hindu and Buddhist households were looted, vandalized, and set ablaze, while temples were desecrated.
Hate speech by zealots is widely available on YouTube and Facebook, with tens of thousands of views on social media. The videos do not hesitate to despise the defenders of human rights and advocates of secularism, especially the mainstream media.
The hate speech by the clergies indoctrinate madrasa students, and millions of disciples of Islamic evangelists paradoxically have a similar message of hate against secular Muslims and Muslim sects.
Of late, their demands to the authorities are coincidentally the same, as if the storyboard is prepared under one roof, by one person, and written with one pen.
Closely analyzing their statements, the Islamists are no more a religious group -- they have a clear political agenda. The bigots with a political agenda, means they are bidding for the return of political Islam. This will severely dent our almost five-decade-long traditional culture of tolerance, democracy, and secularism.
The zealots demand that the government should enact a blasphemy law, with a provision of a maximum penalty for criticizing the Prophet and the Qur’an.
In fact, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in 1993 had proposed in the parliament a draft blasphemy law, which was strikingly very similar to what Pakistan enacted in 1986. The draft was shredded by both the ruling and opposition lawmakers of that time.
Islamic scholars passionately debate that the Holy Qur’an has not sanctioned blasphemy. Nor is there any mentionable edict in the Hadith to punish a blasphemer in this living world.
The non-believers and blasphemers will be condemned to hell on the Day of Judgment.
They also do not hesitate to demand that the Qur’an and Sunnah replace the state constitution, which was earned from the Liberation War by millions of martyrs.
Unfortunately, the zealots were never accused of sedition or provoking a law and order situation.
Their interpretation of Wahhabi Islam has gradually penetrated into the minds of majoritarian Muslims in the country. The Wahhabi doctrine advocates strict Sharia laws that have been implemented in many conservative Muslim countries.
The bigots also harbor inner contradictions regarding the war crimes trial. The Islamists tacitly agree that henchmen of the marauding Pakistan army were responsible for crimes against humanity and should be brought to justice. Equally, they hate to see Islamists being punished for crimes perpetrated in 1971.
In a naive statement, the mullahs believe that the International Crimes Tribunal deliberately targeted Islamists because of pro-India secularists, the country which has immensely contributed to the birth of Bangladesh.
Intimidation by the Islamists is pushing a pluralistic society into a tight corner. Understanding that the state religion Islam will never be deleted from the constitution, their hate speech has multiplied.
The Islamists have dared to destabilize a secular fabric of the society and challenge the spirit of the Liberation War.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune newspaper on 26 November 2019
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; He can be reached at

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Impunity: Bangladesh's Scorecard Grows Longer

Bangladesh has an appalling record of press freedom and freedom of expression since the country switched to Parliamentary Democracy in 1991 after a decade and half of military dictatorship.
According to impunity scorecard, 35 journalists, bloggers, freelancers have been killed in Bangladesh since 1992 to 2019, according to a draft Impunity Scorecard 2019 prepared by Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh (FExB).
The highest numbers of journalists, bloggers, freelancers, and media practitioners were killed, at least 5 persons each in 2004 and 2015.
However, there were zero casualties for seven consecutive years in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2019. The zero casualty phenomenons are difficult to determine. A conclusive statement could only be made after extensive anthropological research.
Unfortunately, most of the deaths are caused by non-state actors. Their mission was to "shoot the messenger", to stop exposing the underworld crimes, smuggling, left extremists and radicalized Islamists. The predators of journalists remain mysterious, nameless and unidentified non-state actors, which is the biggest threat to journalists in Bangladesh. Bangladesh law enforcing agencies and the judiciary have equally failed to deliver justice for crimes against journalists and bloggers.
Police authorities investigating the murder cases says that the motives behind all these killings could not be confirmed, therefore the prime suspect, the predators could not be nabbed.

First published in The New Nation, November 09, 2019

Saleem Samad, Bangladesh Correspondent, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)