Myanmar's military used fake Facebook accounts to target Rohingya Muslims: report

Myanmar's military used fake Facebook accounts to target Rohingya Muslims: report
The fake accounts, which had some 1.3 million followers, were used to post incendiary comments about Myanmar's minority Rohingya population.
3 min read
15 October, 2018
Myanmar people browse Facebook on their phone [Getty]
Myanmar's military is behind a half-decade-old Facebook fake news campaign targeting the country's minority Rohinghya Muslims, according to a new report by the New York Times.

The news follows a move in December by Facebook to take down the official accounts of senior military leaders to prevent the spread of “hate and misinformation”.

According to Monday's NYT report, the systemic campaign led by Myanmar's top military brass led to the creation of hundreds of fake accounts that flooded Facebook feeds with incendiary comments about Rohingyas.

Facebook's use is widespread in Myanmar.

As many as 700 military officers working in shifts worked near the capital Naypyidaw, also collecting intelligence and documenting posts critical of military leaders.

They began their operations by creating pages about pop stars and models to attract a large following. Those pages were then used to publish inflammatory posts about Rohingyas, NYT reported.

In 2017, ahead of the 9/11 anniversary, these accounts were even used to spread false rumours to both Buddhists and Muslims that an attack against one another was being planned. 

The military reportedly used its deep experience in psychological warfare developed under years of military dictatorship to target Rohingyas. 

Facebok's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher told NYT it had evidence of "clear and deliberate attempts to covertly spread propaganda that were directly linked to the Myanmar military".

The social media giant added that it took down accounts that had some 1.3 million followers.

"We discovered that these seemingly independent entertainment, beauty and informational pages were linked to the Myanmar military," Facebook said.

Although governments -- including Russia and Iran -- have been accused with launching disruptive campaigns at foreign countries, this appears to mark the first time a military has used Facebook against its own people.

"I wouldn't say Facebook is directly involved in the ethnic cleansing, but there is a responsibility they had to take proper actions to avoid becoming an instigator of genocide," Thet Swe Win, founder of NGO Synergy in Myanmar, told NYT.

Last month, a 444-page report by a UN fact-finding mission concluded there was enough evidence to merit investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's army chief and five other top military commanders for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.

Troops, sometimes aided by ethnic Rakhine mobs, committed  murder, rape, arson and torture, using unfathomable levels of violence and with a total disregard for human life, investigators concluded.

More than 700,000 of the stateless Muslim minority took refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, where they remain -- fearful of returning to mainly Buddhist Myanmar despite a repatriation deal between the two countries.

The military has denied nearly all wrongdoing, justifying its crackdown as a legitimate means of rooting out Rohingya militants.

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