Facebook now features a new set of stickers which users can download to counter online hate speech in Myanmar.
“Speak Panzagar” (flower speech or good speech) stickers were developed by the Burmese organization of the same name in response to a noticeable rise in online hate speech in the country.
The disturbing trend was first observed in 2012 when Facebook was swamped with hate speech and generally inflammatory communication between Buddhist and Muslim users in Myanmar. Many people believe that the spread of racist and discriminatory comments on Facebook contributed to inter-community conflicts that have gripped the nation in recent years.
Myanmar has a predominantly Buddhist population but it has more than 100 ethnic groups. In the past three years, some radical Buddhist groups have accused the Muslim minority of plotting to dominate the country.
The tensions have led to riots that displaced many civilians, including the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group which is not recognized by the Myanmar government.
A Facebook user, Aung Kyaw Khaing, welcomed the arrival of the Panzagar stickers:
Today I am very happy to see the spread of the flower speech stickers on Facebook. I have been excited since I learnt that flower speech stickers will be available and I am so glad that now it is actually available. I am also proud to use Myanmar language stickers on Facebook.
The Panzagar movement started in early 2014 to promote responsible use of the Internet. Some participants of the movement distributed pamphlets in major cities of Myanmar reminding the public that aside from “draconian censorship” the other threat to free speech is “irresponsible and hateful speech.”
Panzagar was founded by the well-known blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was arrested by the former military regime for posting information about the 2007 pro-democracy protest actions which came to be known as the Saffron Revolution on his blog. He was released in 2012.
Kenneth Wong SF wrote on his blog that people should be careful about what they say especially in online spaces as it can create undesirable consequences:
I see Panzagar as a movement that brings out the best in us. It reminds us to look beyond our different religious rituals, skin colors, and lifestyles; and to seek our common humanity. It holds us accountable for what we write and say. That's important in the digital era, where everyone has the ability to draw blood with sharp pixels, but few will ever be called to face their victims or witness the wounds they cause.
It is hoped that the initial positive feedback of Facebook users, the ‘flower speech’ stickers will continue to generate more enthusiasm and support to curb, if not end, the proliferation of hate speech on the country's most popular social networking site.