HART Prize 2021-22 Intermediate Essay Winner – St John Smith’s: How social media has led to the mass destruction and segregation between the Rohingya and citizens in Burma.

6 April 2022

Social media has nearly branched out to every civilisation in the world, influencing the lives of many but not necessarily in a positive manner. Most recently it has been acting as the facilitator in the devastating events occurring in Burma, between the Rohingya and Burmese authorities.

The Rohingya are an Islamic group described by the United Nations as “one of, if not the most discriminated people in the world”. They are one of the many ethnic minorities who once sought refuge in Burma; with their population in Burma amounting to around 1 million people (recorded at the beginning of 2017). Representing the largest percentage of Muslims in Burma. However, their presence in Burma is not so welcome. In fact, they are met with great enmity.

Burma, a principally Buddhist country continues to deny the Rohingya citizenship, refusing to recognise them as people, leaving many Rohingya neglected and vulnerable; thus, diminishing their chances of employment negatively impacting their livelihood e.g. access to food etc. The government’s view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who have no place in Burma. They often dehumanise the group with physical and verbal abuse, disrespecting their beliefs. Over the past few years, tensions between the Rohingya and Burmese militants have begun to rise, with more and more Rohingya making precarious journeys out of Burma to escape the dreadful abuse they have received from security forces and other citizens of Burma. A place in which they once sought refuge was now forcing them to leave.

One of the more significant atrocities committed by Burmese officials occurred in August of 2017. The Burmese army erratically bombarded Rohingya villages, burning their homes and killing many civilians. It was said that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including no less than 730 children under the age of five were killed in a month after the violence broke out; displaying the great extent to which Burma does not accept them.

How can a people’s religious belief cause such destruction and division within a society? It is one of the many problems within our current society. The sudden outburst at an aspect that you may not have encountered before is simply irrational, the potential of any given society is too great for these horrid occurrences.

The predominant catalyst and facilitator of these terrible events occurring in Burma is social media, particularly Facebook (Now Meta). As a result of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the government began to liberalise businesses such as (in some ways regrettably) the telecommunications sector. This drastic change led to prices for SIM cards dropping as much as $200. The internet became disturbingly accessible; and so due to the Burma’s population’s lack of prior experience with the internet it meant that they were susceptible to external influence and misinformation. The combination of great ethnic tension and the newly emerging social media led to an extremely toxic and hostile environment, resulting in many discriminatory and offensive remarks directed towards the Rohingya.

The Rohingya ended up suing Facebook for a total sum of £150 billion, protesting that Facebook are/were willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for greater market preparation. Moreover, the Rohingya also criticised Facebook of its specificity when exploiting a country to position itself in

i.e. Burma is a small country in South-east Asia where there is little to no compensation or support despite its recognition of its own culpability. These posts, comments, hate speeches and discriminatory messages that are frequently directed towards the Rohingya impact them significantly, plunging them into a constant state of anxiety and fear for the safety of their families and themselves. In Burma, social media is essentially utilised as a way of dehumanising a group instead of creating an element of social harmony; because of this it has created even greater division within the country. The greater division there is within a country the less uproar or outcry there is when a genocide occurs to either group, which consequently leads to less action taking place to halt these atrocities.

In conclusion, the purpose of this essay was to raise awareness about the pernicious effects of social media, leading to destruction and segregation in places such as Burma. There is no reason for factors such as these to lead to mass genocides of innocent people in this day and age. Hate crimes directed towards ethnic minority groups such as the Rohingya because of social media should show the negative potential social media possesses. By raising awareness about the damaging influences social media has on millions of people, we can hopefully transition into using social media in a more conserved and positive approach. Lastly, affairs in countries such as Burma that have managed to escape the spotlight of mainstream media should have more pressure inflicted upon them by more powerful countries and international organisations such as the United Nations.

By St John Smith

Back to News

Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities