The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has admonished Facebook for not doing enough to protect Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar from hate speech.
The independent federal commission slapped the social media giant in a report Friday titled “Protecting Religious Freedom Online” that more widely called for regulators of online speech to respect rights of religious expression.
The six-page report called out Facebook for its “failure to address incitement against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” which it said was an example of an “insufficient response” by the social media giant.
Myanmar’s military crackdown in 2017 against Rohingya Muslims, including alleged mass killings and rapes, drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into exile in neighboring Bangladesh. The refugee crisis and reported attacks on Rohingya, which human rights groups say is genocide, continue to this day.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a 1976 United Nations-passed document, protects freedom of expression as well as the freedom of religion or belief, the Friday report noted. Conflicts arise when religious free speech is classified as “hate speech” by those who object to the expressed opinions.
“Maintaining a high threshold to limit speech is essential to protecting both freedom of expression and religious freedom,” the document stated. Incitement to genocide must be regulated, but governments “cannot require that social media companies restrict expression that states themselves cannot directly prohibit,” it said.
Among recommendations in the report, USCIRF suggests the federal government should publicly note “social media abuses by foreign governments that create a hostile environment to religious freedom and freedom of expression” in bilateral talks as well as the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report.
Agencies should “promote counterspeech” on U.S. government social media accounts to fight hate speech and fund programs to develop “early warning mechanisms” to combat hate speech.
“The U.S. government can also play a vital role in ensuring that social media companies protect human rights and religious freedom,” the fact sheet noted and urged the U.S. to work with other governments to promote responsibility by social media companies in complying with international human rights law.
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