Facebook risks being dragged into war crime trials, UN warns

Facebook deleted dozens of accounts in Burma over hate speech this week - REUTERS
Facebook deleted dozens of accounts in Burma over hate speech this week - REUTERS

The United Nations has warned Facebook that it risks being dragged into international war crimes trials for its role in future human rights violations, as it called on the social network to address hate speech more quickly.

Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, said the company risked becoming an accessory to horrific crimes and that the company had not taken violence in Burma incited on the social network seriously.

It comes after a UN report into atrocities in Burma this week said Facebook had been “a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate”.

On Monday, the company banned dozens of accounts, including the military chief’s own page, in the country, where 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled rape and mass murder, Facebook has been accused of allowing false information and hate speech on its platform to spread across Burma, whipping up violence.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Al-Hussein said Facebook risked being subpoenaed in future trials “of those accused of the worst crimes” if it did not learn its lesson from the violence.

Mr Al-Hussein speaking in Geneva - Credit: Reuters
Mr Al-Hussein speaking in Geneva Credit: Reuters

"We felt early on very uncomfortable with what we were seeing in Myanmar, (but) in the early meetings that we had with Facebook, I didn't think they were taking it seriously," Mr Al-Hussein said. "Hopefully they've now awoken."

He added that “their role would be brought into question” in other cases "where Facebook is the dominant medium in a country where you see a deterioration of human rights conditions".

“They have to be sure that they know where they are and what side of the law they are on.”

Mr Al-Hussein suggested that Facebook should be regulated by international human rights law, instead of by national governments.

His comments came in response to Donald Trump warning Facebook and other internet companies to “be careful” after accusing them of a left-wing bias. The US president has said the companies of favouring anti-Trump news and promised that the situation “will be addressed”.

Facebook has denied bias, but it has come under further scrutiny after a group of its own employees have accused the company of a “political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views”.

More than 100 of its employees have joined an internal group aiming to promote political diversity at the company, whose workforce is often seen as having a liberal slant.

An internal post written by a senior Facebook engineer, reported by the New York Times, claims that anyone at the company “who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology” is attacked.