Guardian Article on Myanmar: Facebook should warn users about risks of self-expression

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/nov/02/myanmar-facebook-should-warn-users-about-risks-of-self-expression

The Myanmar government has detained at least three people over Facebook posts it deemed offensive in the last few weeks. This crackdown on freedom of expression in the run up to the general elections is of great concern. Only the Myanmar government, and the generals’ lack of sense of humour, are to blame. Yet Facebook could do more to protect its users.

Facebook is Myanmar’s most popular site. It provides a platform to communicate and the illusion that users can do so freely. But controversial posts in Myanmar can result in long jail sentences. The company has spoken out before to educate Myanmar people about hate speech; it should do the same to warn them of the risks they face when exercising their freedom of expression online. Myanmar’s internet freedom status was recently downgraded by Freedom House from “partly free” in 2014 to “not free” in 2015.

The Myanmar government is using laws that allow a wide scope of interpretation of defamation. “Defamation should not result in jail sentences,” said Daniel Aguirre of the International Commission of Jurists, which monitored the first trial of Patrick Kum Ja Lee. “These laws need to be tightened to ensure freedom of expression. Myanmar has extremely limited judicial resources that would be better used guaranteeing a free and fair election.”

Facebook has taken steps to educate people about hate speech. It should also go beyond its responsibility to respect human rights and warn people in Myanmar about the risks they face when using the site.

Irene Pietropaoli is an independent consultant on business and human rights based in Yangon, Myanmar. Follow @IPietropaoli on Twitter.

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