Digital Incitement

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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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