Rohingya refugees are taking legal action against Meta for allegedly allowing the spread of false news and hate speech against the ethnic group on Facebook.
About the lawsuit: On Monday, an Illinois-based Rohingya woman filed a case against Facebook’s parent company in a California court, seeking a compensation of over $150 billion on behalf of the more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees now living in the U.S., reported The Washington Post.
- The suit alleges that the proliferation of misinformation played a significant role in the hostile treatment and purported killings of the mostly Muslim minority group in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.
- The plaintiff faults Facebook for its failure to remove hate speech and other content that fueled violence toward the Rohingya people, arguing that the platform’s algorithm even boosted such posts.
- The plaintiff’s lawyers noted in the complaint that the company was “willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in Southeast Asia.”
- While the Rohingya people have long been reported as suffering in Myanmar, the plaintiff’s lawyers pointed out that Facebook’s launch in the country 10 years ago became “a key inflection point” for the group.
- In 2017, the Myanmar government drove the Rohingya people out of Rakhine state in an aggressively violent campaign that left at least 6,700 of them dead, according to Doctors Without Borders.
- Myanmar, which refuses to recognize the Rohingya people as an official ethnic group in the country, has attributed its actions against them as part of its fight against terrorism.
- Local politicians, nationalists and other influential people have circulated propaganda and hate posts against the Rohingya people. Manipulated images show them destroying their own communities in an alleged attempt to frame Myanmar security forces.
- U.K.-based Rohingya refugees are planning to file a similar complaint against the social media giant next year, BBC reported.
- A letter sent to Facebook by the British law firm representing the refugees claimed that the site’s algorithms “amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people” and disregarded warnings to “take appropriate and timely action.”
Facebook’s confession: In 2018, Facebook admitted that it was used to “foment division and incite offline violence” and commissioned Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to assess “the role of [Facebook’s] services in Myanmar.”
- The site also started removing and blocking the accounts of specific personalities and groups in Myanmar, such as military officials. It claims to have deleted around 64,000 posts tied to the disinformation campaign in Myanmar for policy violation.
- A Reuters investigative report revealed examples of such inflammatory Facebook posts. “We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews,” a post in 2013 read.
- “Pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster,” read another.
- The lawsuit pointed out: “Not until 2018 — after the damage had been done — did Facebook executives … meekly admit that Facebook should and could have done more. Facebook is like a robot programmed with a singular mission: to grow. And the undeniable reality is that Facebook’s growth, fueled by hate, division, and misinformation, has left hundreds of thousands of devastated Rohingya lives in its wake.”
Having been denied citizenship since 1982, the Rohingya remain stateless, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Over 880,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in and around the Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in Bangaldesh’s Cox’s Bazar.