Anti-migrant sentiment fanned on Facebook in Malaysia

In this news, we discuss the Anti-migrant sentiment fanned on Facebook in Malaysia.

As coronavirus infections have increased in Malaysia this year, a wave of hate speech and disinformation targeting Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar has started to appear on Facebook.

Alarmed rights groups reported the material to Facebook. But six months later, many posts targeting Rohingya in Malaysia remain on the platform, including pages such as “Anti Rohingya Club” and “Foreigners Mar Malaysia’s Image”, although those two pages were removed after Reuters reported them to Facebook recently.

Comments still online in a private group of nearly 100,000 members included “I hope they all die, that cursed pig ethnic group.” Facebook acknowledged in 2018 that its platform was being used to incite violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and last year spent more than $ 3.7 billion on safety and security on its platform.

But the wave of anti-Rohingya comments in Malaysia shows how xenophobic discourse persists. “Affirm that Facebook is not committed to addressing the issue of safety and security are inaccurate and do not reflect the significant investment we have made to tackle harmful content on our platform, ”said a spokesperson for the company to Reuters.

Reuters found more than three dozen pages and groups, including accounts maintained by former Malaysian and sitting security officials, which featured discriminatory language about Rohingya refugees and undocumented migrants. Dozens of comments encouraged violence.

Reuters found some of the strongest comments in closed private groups, which people should ask to join. These groups have been a hotbed of hate speech and disinformation in other parts of the world. Facebook deleted 12 of 36 pages and groups reported by Reuters, as well as several articles. Five other pages with anti-migrant content seen by Reuters last month were removed before Reuters queries.

“We don’t allow people to post hate speech or threats of violence on Facebook and we will remove such content as soon as we become aware of it. ” Facebook said. Some of the pages that remain online contain comments comparing the Rohingya to dogs and parasites. Some have revealed where Rohingya have been spotted and have encouraged authorities and the public to take action against them.

BROAD HATE SPEECH “This type of hate speech can lead to physical violence and persecution of an entire group. We saw it in Myanmar, ”said John Quinley, senior human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, an independent group focused on Southeast Asia.

“It would be irresponsible not to actively eliminate anti-refugees and anti-Rohingya Facebook groups and pages. The Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been friendly with the Rohingya, a minority fleeing persecution in largely Buddhist Myanmar, and more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees live in Malaysia, although it does not officially recognize them as refugees.

But sentiment changed in April, with the Rohingyas accused of spreading the coronavirus. Hate speech has circulated widely, especially on Facebook – a platform used by nearly 70% of Malaysia’s 32 million inhabitants. Rights groups and refugees commented on Facebook contributed to aggravate xenophobia in Malaysia.

“Malaysians who have been living with Rohingya refugees for years have started calling us cops, some have lost their jobs. We’re afraid all the time, ”said Abu, a Rohingya refugee who declined to give his full name, fearing repercussions. Another refugee who refused to be identified said he had disabled his Facebook after posting his contact details and the Malaysians sent him a message telling him to return to Myanmar – from where he fled five years ago.

“Facebook failed, they don’t understand how dangerous such comments can be, ”he said, referring to posts he had seen in support of action in Myanmar against the Rohingya. ‘ABSENT’

Rights groups have said that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government has not done enough to tackle xenophobia by rounding up thousands of undocumented migrants and declaring it will no longer accept Rohingya refugees. “The Malaysian government was completely absent from any kind of effort to curb this wave of hate speech,” Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson said.

Muhyiddin’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Reuters found four pages with links to security and law enforcement agencies expressing anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Let’s not get cancer from this ethnicity (group),” said administrators of a group called “Friends of Immigration”. The group says it is led by current and former immigration officers. This April post was deleted this month after Reuters queries Facebook.

The immigration department did not respond to questions from Reuters. The communications and interior ministries also did not respond to questions about hate speech on social media. Among the first messages to spark comments calling for the Rohingya to be slaughtered was one from the Malaysian armed forces headquarters asking the public to be their “ears and eyes” and to report undocumented migrants. A military spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the page.

Another post that was shared over 26,000 times came from a page calling itself the Royal Military Intelligence Corps, which said that undocumented migrants “will cause problems for all of us.” Reuters was unable to contact the administrator of the page. The military said it had nothing to do with the page and was headed by a former member of the intelligence unit.

Facebook deleted both messages after Reuters queries. The Intelligence Corps page has also been removed. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

News Highlights:

  • But six months later, many posts targeting Rohingya in Malaysia remain on the platform, including pages such as “Anti Rohingya Club” and “Foreigners Mar Malaysia’s Image”, although those two pages were removed after Reuters reported them to Facebook recently. Comments still online in a private group of nearly 100,000 members included “I hope they all die, that cursed pig ethnic group.”
  • Anti-migrant sentiment has intensified Facebook in Malaysia
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