It seems everyone will agree that Facebook, despite its intention to do good, is somehow responsible for all of the toxicity in this world. This is due to the fact that the social media platform has been heavily used in recent years for the widespread transmission of hate speech and misinformation.
In one of his trademark deep dives, on Sunday’s new Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took a look in particular how Mark Zuckerberg’s platform — which he notes is “the worst place to wish happy birthday to a friend, other than a funeral” — has been affecting countries outside of the United States, Rolling Stone reports.
The country of Myanmar, which is formerly Burma, in particular, has been hit especially hard by Facebook’s so-called “move fast and break things” mantra pany. As Oliver explains, in 2013, just 1.2 percent of the country’s citizens had internet access, but thanks in part to social media giant coming preinstalled on smart phones, now roughly 18 million Myanmarese people are using the platform — even using the terms “Facebook” and “internet” interchangeably.
Suddenly, everyone in Myanmar is now glued to their phones, as Oliver summed up the feelings of one Myanmarese teacher who dismissed the social media platform as a “toilet.”
He was quoted saying, “Look, I get that he’s annoyed, but calling Facebook a toilet is a little unfair to toilets because they make sh*t go away, whereas Facebook retains sh*t, disseminates sh*t to your acquaintances and reminds you of sh*t from seven years ago, all while allowing corporations to put their sh*t in front of you. What I’m saying is there’s a purity and integrity to toilets that Facebook seriously lacks.”
Given the reliance by those in Myanmar to get their news on Facebook is particularly troubling, as the country in embroiled in ongoing, violent conflicts between Hindus and Rohingya Muslims. In 2017, the country executed what is believed to be about 10,000 Rohingya Muslims, with another 750,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.
And due to language and cultural barriers, it has been an uphill battle for Facebook to police what type of content gets shared in Myanmar. Even with recent advances, the company is still nowhere close to being able to get things under control.
“Look, I am not saying that the challenges Facebook is facing are not significant,” Oliver says, summarizing all of the company’s problems, in the crux of the segment. “But for a company that moves fast and breaks things, they have sure moved slowly in trying to fucking fix them.”
“And until they do, it is painfully obvious that everybody should be treating everything on the site with extreme skepticism and see Facebook for what it actually is,” he continues. “A fettered swamp of mistruths and outright lies, interspersed with the occasional reminder of a dead pet. That’s it.”
Many believe that Facebook failed Myanmar with its dodgy efforts to spot hate speech – partly because its technology is not compatible with the country’s various language fonts. They rely on Burmese people to flag content, but the country’s reporting systems were listed in English until late 2015. And content that was flagged was often not taken down because Facebook did not even have any Burmese-speaking content reviewers – only one in 2014, two as of 2015, then expanded to four through outsourcing.
The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently hired 60 more reviewers to help minimize the problem. But Facebook is clearly not doing enough: In a mid-August report, reports found over 1,000 Facebook posts attacking the Rohingya.
Oliver closed the segment with a satirical Facebook ad that emphasized, “Somewhere between 80 and 100 percent of what’s on our site is bullsh*t – complete bullsh*t.” The host added, “It is painfully obvious that everyone should be treating anything on their site with extreme skepticism and see Facebook for what it actually is: a fetid swamp of mistruths and outright lies interspersed with the occasional reminder of a dead pet.”