In what may be a global first, Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have sued Meta Platforms Inc, (formerly and still better known as Facebook) for $150 billion. The community has alleged that the social media giant “did not take action against anti-Rohingya hate speech that contributed to violence.” According to a Reuters report, a class-action complaint was “filed in California on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC.” It argues that the company's failures to curb hate content as well “its platform's design” have contributed to the on ground violence the Rohingya community has been facing. Reuters added that “in a coordinated action, British lawyers also submitted a letter of notice to Facebook's London office”.
Meanwhile Meta issued a statement: "We're appalled by the crimes committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. We've built a dedicated team of Burmese speakers, banned the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military), disrupted networks manipulating public debate and taken action on harmful misinformation to help keep people safe. We've also invested in Burmese-language technology to reduce the prevalence of violating content."
According to a BBC report, around 10,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017. In the UK, the British law firm representing some of the refugees has written to Facebook, which the BBC reported, alleges that “Facebook's algorithms "amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people; the firm "failed to invest" in moderators and fact checkers who knew about the political situation in Myanmar; the company failed to take down posts or delete accounts that incited violence against Rohingya; failed to "take appropriate and timely action", despite warnings from charities and the media.
The report added that the US lawyers filed a legal complaint against Facebook in San Francisco, accusing it of being "willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in Southeast Asia." Facebook posts that were featured in the Reuters investigation were cited in the complaint. A sample of one such post from 2013 stated: "We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews." The reported cited another dangerously anti-Muslim hate mogering post that said: "Pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster."
According to the BBC news report, Facebook, which has more than 20 million users in Myanmar, had admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent the incitement of violence and hate speech against Rohingyas. An independent report, commissioned by Facebook, had reportedly said the platform created an "enabling environment" for the proliferation of human rights abuse. Over the years, thousands have been killed, and many Rohingyas have been forced to flee the country. The BBC recalled that in 2018, the UN accused Facebook of being "slow and ineffective" in its response to the spread of hatred online. According to the news report, “Under US law, Facebook is largely protected from liability over content posted by its users. But the new lawsuit argues the law of Myanmar - which has no such protections - should prevail in the case.”