Digital Incitement

On Monday, a United Nations panel recommended that Myanmar’s top army commander and other senior military officials be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a special tribunal to face charges of genocide. It’s not the first time Myanmar’s leaders have been accused of orchestrating a brutal campaign of murder, rape, and ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority (careful, that link is not for the faint-hearted). But the UN finding is significant, because it’s the first step in seeking formal prosecution of those responsible for displacing an estimated 700,000 people and killing at least 10,000 more over the past year.


The UN used similar tribunals to seek justice after war crimes that took place during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. In this case, though, even delayed justice may be difficult. China, which doesn’t like outside powers meddling in Asia, is likely to block any attempt by the UN to begin formal proceedings.

Perhaps more significant than naming the generals, the UN report also singled out Facebook. It said that the social network, which has become an important source of news in a country where eight years ago just 1 percent of the population had phones, had also been a “useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate” during the campaign against the Rohingya. It’s also not the first time such accusations have been leveled against the social network. But the fact that they’re being made in a UN report that accuses a government of mass atrocities is significant. It shows Facebook’s problems go way beyond online bullying or letting Russian trolls mess with the democratic process. We are now talking about genocide.

Twentieth century genocides were centrally directed affairs, where hate spread from the top down, through government propaganda, TV, and radio. Today, anyone can post hateful comments that incite violence, and watch them go viral over social media. Until recently, the tech industry has been reluctant to play policeman. In 2015, Facebook only had two Burmese-speaking content monitors. As of June, long after its problems in Myanmar became public, it was only using a few dozen contractors to monitor posts made by 18 million-odd users in the country, according to Reuters.

On Monday, Facebook admitted it had been too slow to respond to the crisis. It also banned the country’s top general and dozens of other military-linked accounts, effectively depriving them of their most important megaphone for reaching the public. It’s a small step, and much more will be required to make social media safe for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities around the world that aren’t protected by their governments. Even if the UN report fails to bring the perpetrators of this atrocity to justice, by turning up the moral pressure on social media companies, it may spur the industry to work even harder on the changes needed to avoid the next one.

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.