World

Facebook bans slur, sparks outcry

YANGON Myanmar netizens were in uproar yesterday after Facebook seemingly banned people from posting the word "kalar", often used as a slur against Muslims, at a time of rising Islamophobia in the country.

Facebook is under global pressure to clamp down on hate speech, violent threats or deliberately misleading information on their platform - with efforts showing varying degrees of success.

Dozens of users in Myanmar reported being temporarily barred from the site recently after posting the controversial term, which is frequently used as an insult for the country's embattled Muslim minority.

Some users said they were even blocked after writing other words that included the same sound in the Burmese alphabet, highlighting the difficulties Facebook has monitoring millions of posts in multiple languages.

Mr Aung Kaung Myat said he had been prevented from liking, posting and sharing content on the site for 24 hours last week for writing about the apparent ban, as had many of his friends.

"It is ridiculous," he said. "I became a victim of it myself when I wrote: 'Facebook is deleting the posts that include the word 'kalar'."

Yarzar Soe-Oo said he was barred on Friday after posting a quip about eating Indian bean soup ("kalar pal hin") while sitting in a chair ("kalar htaing").

Facebook did not reply to e-mailed requests for comment, while a spokesman for the Myanmar government said it had not pushed for a ban.

Kalar is a deeply-controversial term in Myanmar, where it is used to refer to foreigners in general, but most commonly to describe people of Indian origin and anything relating to their culture.

Over the years, it has also been turned into a derogatory slur by Buddhist nationalists against Muslims. - AFP