Nandita Mohan / Sun Staff Photographer

Panelists discuss their perspectives on Myanmar's genocide on Thursday.

November 16, 2017

Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide Was Shaped by Hate-Mongering Facebook Memes, Cornell Profs Say

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“It seems so far, that this is a genocide carried out with impunity,” Prof. Magnus Fiskesjö, anthropology, said, discussing the geopolitical ramifications of the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar at a panel discussion concluding Rohingya Week at Cornell.

Panelists on Thursday analyzed the current political state of Myanmar as a result of attacks on Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military.

Fiskesjö — who has long worked with issues concerning ethnic minorities in Myanmar — discussed the majority public opinion in Myanmar, against the Rohingya and how the genocide has “been shaped and helped by Facebook.”

Fiskesjö described the crisis “as the worst example in the world so far, of Facebook becoming the major platform for spreading hate-mongering and in effect enabling this genocide, thus becoming the poster example of the broader crisis of ‘social’ corporate online media.”

“I never expected Facebook to be so problematic,” Sarah Sabbagh ’21 said. “It is scary to think that social media could affect global and political issues.”

Emily Hong, grad, drew upon her personal experiences in Thailand and Myanmar completing research, media projects and activist engagements as a filmmaker and researcher. Her familiarities enabled her to have an understanding of the crisis, so she could focus on potential solutions.

Student volunteers provided a handout to program attendees that brainstormed ideas to help the Rohingya people. Suggested forms of activism involved contacting humanitarian organizations, informing the public about the events in Myanmar and fundraising to support Rohingya citizens.

When students assess possible efforts of activism, Prof. John Weiss, anthropology, advocated that students “think beyond Cornell,” calling on students to identify social justice issues worldwide.

Hong, who feels there are no easy ways to solve this crisis spanning several decades, said that “if the solution seems simple, then we are probably not looking hard enough.”

After the panel, anti-genocide advocating groups set up exhibits in Klarman Hall atrium highlighting the conflict faced by the Rohingyans. The showcase reflected how social media has become a threat to Myanmar.

“Learning that memes could be hurting groups of people in such a controversial way was surprising,” said Juliana Rich ’21 responding to the display.