Several Rohingya refugees have sued Facebook for $150 billion claiming that the social media company did not take action on the hate speech posted on the platform against them, reported Reuters. The refugees have alleged that Facebook’s inaction led to violence against the members of the community.
Rohingyas, a Muslim community in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have been denied citizenship in the country and are classified as illegal immigrants. In 2017, the Myanmar Army had cracked down on the Rohingyas, claiming that it was in retaliation to attacks by insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The refugees have alleged that the crackdown included mass killings and rape.
More than seven lakh Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 to escape the violence. The United Nations and the United States have described the Myanmar Army’s actions against the community as “ethnic cleansing”.
The lawsuit against Facebook, now known as Meta, was filed in a California court on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC. In a coordinated action, British lawyers too have submitted a letter of notice to Facebook’s London office.
The lawsuit referred to claims made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company does not police abusive content in countries where such speeches are likely to cause the most harm.
The complaint also cited media reports that Myanmar’s military was using fake social media accounts to engage in “information combat”. The term is widely used by the Myanmar military and is aimed at promoting the Army’s propaganda and label dissenters online as traitors, according to Reuters.
The letter served by British lawyers alleged that Facebook’s algorithms “amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people”, reported BBC.
It alleged that the social media platform failed to take down posts or delete accounts that incited violence against the Rohingyas. The letter also alleged that Facebook “failed to invest” in moderators and fact checkers who knew about the political situation in the country and did not take “appropriate and timely action” despite warnings.
Facebook has not responded to the allegations. However, the company had admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent the spread of violence and hate speech against the Rohingya Muslims.
The social media platform had made the statement after studying an impact assessment of the role of its services in the country.
The company had said that according to the report, it should play an active role in advocacy aimed at policy, legal, and regulatory reforms in Myanmar because the country lacks a legal framework in line with universal human rights principles, and is a hotbed of cultural, religious and ethnic tensions.
Facebook is protected from liability over content posted by users by a United States internet law called Section 230. This law states that online platforms are not liable for content posted by third parties.
The complainants say they will apply Burmese law, which does not grant such protections, wherever applicable if Section 230 is raised as a defence.